Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Assassinations, Conspiracies and Secret Service Weekly

President Garfield Tribute 1881

By E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra

Every once in a while, a contributor to popular culture will produce a work that may only be described as prophetic. A classic case is the accurate description of atomic weapons that appeared in Astounding Science Fiction in March 1944. Fearful that the top-secret Manhattan Project had been compromised (it had been – but that is another story) the FBI descended on editor John W. Campbell to investigate how author Cleve Cartmill (1908-1964) had obtained his technical information for “Deadline.” Eventually, Campbell and Cartmill convinced the Feds that all the scientific details had come from unclassified published technical journals. Earlier in the century, H.G. Wells had prognosticated in The World Set Free (1914) that nuclear fission could be harnessed to produce superweapons, but Cartmill outlined the nuts and bolts necessary for a practical application.

Since 1865 four sitting American presidents have been murdered, and one wounded, by assassins. Others have been the intended targets in botched attempts. With the exception of Abraham Lincoln’s killer, John Wilkes Booth, the gunmen belonged to no cabals, although conspiracy theorists have had years of fun trying to prove the existence of widespread plots. Guiteau, Czolgosz, Oswald and Hinckley proved to be what they seemed: unstable loners with a misshapen grievance and a hunger for notoriety.

Beginning in 1881, a wave of terrorism aimed at heads of state caused panic in Europe as self-proclaimed “Anarchists” and “Nihilists” attacked monarchs and presidents in Russia, France, Italy and Spain, bombed the Greenwich Observatory and triggered World War I by killing Austria’s heir-apparent. Anarchists were blamed for violence in American labor disputes, such as the bloody 1886 Haymarket Riots in Chicago.

Although Lincoln’s death was brought about by Confederate sympathizers and President James A. Garfield had been shot by a deranged office-seeker acting alone, by the mid-1890s many feared that America’s capitalistic government would become a target for anarchist violence. Increased immigration from eastern Europe bolstered a growing unease about a potential "Red Menace." Within this atmosphere, the appearance of a nickel weekly detective yarn dealing with an anarchist assassination plot against William McKinley was not a complete “shot in the dark.”

McKinley Assassination 1901

On December 7, 1900, issue number 98 of Secret Service: Old and Young King Brady, Detectives hit the newsstands. That week’s story was The Bradys in Washington; or, Working for the President, by “A New York Detective.” The lithographed colored cover shows a recognizable William McKinley recoiling from a knife-wielding thug as the two Bradys struggle to subdue the miscreant in front of the White House.

As dime novel detective stories go, The Bradys in Washington is one of the better ones, involving a conspiracy between a group of anarchists with Russian and Italian names (Ivan Novgorod and Picoli) and a gang of homegrown thieves (Pugsley, Yank Swipes, Fancy Fred and Dublin Dan), who plan to use the assassination as a distraction while they tunnel under the U.S. Treasury and clean it out. Of course the hired muscle are all Blacks. The two Bradys uncover the plot, telegraph a warning to the president, and hurry to Washington. They arrive in time to foil Novgorod's knife attack.

The author knew that Washington, D.C. is honeycombed with tunnels of all descriptions, ranging from covered waterways, to sewers, to secret passages connecting government buildings. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, these passages have been accorded a high level of security. (One of the more original theories about the 1963 Kennedy assassination postulated that additional gunmen targeted the presidential motorcade from sewer gratings in Dallas. The fact that this was later proven impossible did nothing to diminish the idea’s appeal.) In the nickel weekly, the Bradys are hurrying the would-be assassin off to the hoosegow when the pavement disintegrates and the three men fall literally into the laps of the would-be Treasury thieves working in a subterranean passage. The criminals capture the detectives and succeed in stealing eighty gold bars.

Leon Czolgosz Mugshots

McKinley Memorial Stereos

After some thrilling escapes and recaptures on both sides of the Potomac, the Bradys are suspended over a well with a candle ablaze under the rope, so they might have time to agonize over their predicament. Through an athletic feat, Young King Brady manages to chew through the knots and the detectives escape, just in time to foil a second attempted assassination. During a military parade, they spot Ivan Novgorod about to hurl a dynamite bomb. Young Harry disarms him and Old King Brady throttles him until the troops arrive. Next, they recover the gold bars and land the entire gang behind bars.

President McKinley invites the pair to the White House and offers to reward them.

"Sir," answered Old King Brady, "we are pleased to know that we have been of service to a gentleman of your exalted position. We wish no reward except that which comes of a clear conscience in following the line of our duty…What we have done for you we would do just as cheerfully for the humblest citizen in the country."

The complete story may be read HERE

Lincoln Assassination Pictured by Albert Berghaus

Most of the Old King Brady novels were penned by Francis Worcester Doughty (1850-1917), who created the character. A good storyteller with a wide range of interests, he commenced his writing career in the 1870s, to supplement his income as a traveling salesman. In 1882, he became a full-time novelist, churning out dozens of serials and factual articles for Frank Tousey publications, such as Young Men of America, Boys of New York and Happy Days. These were reprinted in Tousey’s lines of nickel weeklies through the 1920s. He was an avid collector and student of coins, stamps, books, gemstones and archeological relics.

The character of Old King Brady first appeared in 1885 in Old King Brady the Sleuth Hound in Tousey’s New York Detective Library. Doughty wrote the bulk of Tousey’s Secret Service weekly himself, adding new stories to his Old King Brady tales from earlier weeklies. In these later tales, the detective is joined by Harry Brady (no relation) and the talented linguist and investigator, Alice Montgomery, to form the Brady Detective Bureau. Secret Service was one of Frank Tousey’s more popular weeklies, running 1,374 issues between 1899 and 1925. After issue 726 (1912) all stories are reprints of earlier numbers. Besides Doughty, Walter Fenton Mott, Lurana W. Sheldon and Luis Senarens wrote for this series.

Although the content of Secret Service is generally well written, cleverly plotted and includes some interesting factual tidbits, the series is marred by a blatant racism. A large proportion of the stories deal with stereotypical Chinese criminals, replete with tong wars, highbinders, opium dens, white slavery and smugglers of illegal immigrants. Others are set in the American southeast, and feature stock black river thugs, lazy field hands and the occasional Voodoo queen. In a number of adventures out west, Mexican “greasers” and skulking Indians are often the villains. Urban crooks tend to be suave sharpers or Bowery goons. Several of Brady’s foes are medical doctors.

Depicting the nation’s chief executive on a dime novel cover was fairly unusual at the time, but the truly shocking aspect of this tale would become apparent nine months later, as the real William McKinley lay dying from a real assassin’s bullet. The shooter, a Polish-American farm boy named Leon Frank Czolgosz (1873-1901) was, as might be suspected, emotionally disturbed. The unemployed factory worker had absorbed a hodgepodge of anarchistic and socialistic ideas from speeches by Emma Goldman and others, and became determined to stalk William McKinley and kill him. He had no personal animosity towards his victim and viewed him merely as a symbol. He followed the president to the Pan-American exposition in Buffalo, NY, and on September 6, 1901, joined a receiving line of well-wishers at the Temple of Music waiting to shake McKinley’s hand. Using a cheap revolver concealed in a handkerchief Czolgosz shot twice, mortally wounding his victim before the presidential guard detail wrestled him to the ground. Czolgosz was rushed to trial on September 23, a mere nine days after McKinley died of his wounds. Convicted in three days, the assassin died in the newfangled electric chair on October 29, 1901, refusing to express remorse.

As a direct result of this third successful presidential assassination, Congress belatedly charged the U.S. Secret Service with the duty of presidential protection. Ironically, a Secret Service contingent, some Buffalo detectives and an eleven-man army detail surrounded the President, yet were unable to spot Czolgosz as a threat until after he fired! (McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, habitually carried a loaded revolver. Yet during his third-party bid for the presidency in 1912, Roosevelt was shot while delivering a speech. Despite a bullet in his chest, he finished his address before seeking medical attention!)

President McKinley 1901
In the outpouring of rage and grief following McKinley’s murder, mass marketing flooded America with dignified and kitschy tributes to the fallen leader. Middle-class parlors displayed memorial stereographs and black-bordered portraits on the wall. A callous popular song, “White House Blues,” also known as “The McKinley Rag” endured for years in country music repertoires (See lyrics below.). In equally questionable taste, Thomas A. Edison, whose laboratory had developed the electric chair (partly to discredit rival George Westinghouse’s Alternating Current system), filmed a panoramic view of Auburn Prison plus a stark reenactment of Czolgosz’ execution. It may be viewed HERE

White House Blues

McKinley hollered, McKinley squalled
Doc said to McKinley, "I can't find that ball",
From Buffalo to Washington

Roosevelt in the White House, he's doing his best
McKinley in the graveyard, he's taking his rest
He's gone a long, long time 

Hush up, little children, now don't you fret
You'll draw a pension at your papa's death
From Buffalo to Washington 

Roosevelt in the White House drinking out of a silver cup
McKinley in the graveyard, he'll never wake up 
He's gone a long, long time 

Ain't but one thing that grieves my mind
That is to die and leave my poor wife behind
I'm gone a long, long time 

Look here, little children, (don't) waste your breath
You'll draw a pension at your papa's death
From Buffalo to Washington 

Standing at the station just looking at the time
See if I could run it by half past nine
From Buffalo to Washington 

Came the train, she's just on time
She run a thousand miles from eight o'clock 'till nine,
From Buffalo to Washington 

Yonder comes the train, she's coming down the line
Blowing in every station Mr. McKinley's a-dying
It's hard times, hard times 

Look-it here you rascal, you see what you've done
You've shot my husband with that Iver-Johnson gun
Carry me back to Washington 

Doc's on the horse, he tore down his rein
Said to that horse, "You've got to outrun this train"
From Buffalo to Washington 

Doc come a-running, takes off his specs
Said "Mr McKinley, better pass in your checks
You're bound to die, bound to die"

A 1926 recording of the song by Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers may be heard HERE

Life 1963

Francis Worcester Doughty

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