Veterans Day is a time to commemorate the brave men and women who are serving or have served in the armed forces. However, the service of animals during times of military conflict often goes unmentioned. Whether providing comfort, inspiration, or indispensable service, animals have played a crucial role in militaries and armed conflicts for centuries. World War I, which ended 96 years ago on November 11, was no exception. To honor our animal veterans, this post highlights five animals that made significant contributions to the Great War.
Pigeons played a crucial role in communication during World War I because of their speed and ability to fly at great heights. Their homing instincts also made pigeons extremely reliable and capable messengers—they could easily find their way back to their loft. Some of the lofts remained at army/division headquarters, while others were mobile, with soldiers carrying the lofts and pigeons on their backs as they moved throughout Europe.
Above: Peerless Pilot, a feathered hero of the war, worked at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Pauillac. During the last year of the war, he delivered 196 messages from the sea. Bottom: "Liberating a pigeon." William E. Moore and James C. Russell, U.S. Official Pictures of the World War Showing America's Participation Selected from the Official Files of the War Department (Washington, D.C.: Pictorial Bureau, 1920), 119.
Both the Allied and the Central Powers used tens of thousands of homing pigeons to send messages between military detachments. In fact, they were so important to communication during the war that the British Defence of the Realm Act made it a crime to kill, wound, otherwise molest, or not take adequate care of pigeons.
Cher Ami, one of two WWI pigeons in our collection, served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France with the American sector in Verdun. He delivered 12 messages, and in delivering the last one on October 4, 1918, he was shot through the breast and leg. Despite being gravely injured by enemy fire, he was able to carry on and save the lives of almost 200 men. The message that he delivered was from the "Lost Battalion" of the U.S. Army's 77th Infantry Division, who were trapped behind enemy lines and accidentally being shelled by American troops. The message from the 77th Infantry Division read: "WE ARE ALONG THE ROAD PARALELL [sic] 276.4. OUR ARTILLERY IS DROPPING A BARRAGE DIRECTLY ON US. FOR HEAVENS SAKE STOP IT." After receiving the message, the U.S. Army redirected its artillery fire and found and relieved the soldiers, bringing them back behind American lines.
Cher Ami, the savior of the "Lost Battalion"
For his bravery and outstanding service, the French government awarded Cher Ami with the Croix de Guerre with palm. The palm signifies the great importance of Cher Ami’s role in the battle. Unfortunately, Cher Ami died on June 13, 1919, from the wounds he sustained in the heroic delivery of his last message.
Like homing pigeons, Allied and Central Powers used dogs as messengers during World War I. Dogs could easily and much more subtly navigate trenches and battlefields than soldiers could, thus making them ideal ground messengers.
Dogs also served in several other capacities—for example, their keen sense of smell made them perfectly suited to finding wounded soldiers on the battlefield and in the trenches. This sense of smell, combined with dogs' excellent hearing, allowed them to serve as effective guards and scouts, particularly when it came to detecting nearby enemies. Man's best friend also filled the simple but essential need for comfort and companionship during times of great distress. In the United States, dogs were not officially incorporated into the military until World War II, but many still served with the armed forces. These dogs were most likely adopted by units on an individual basis as mascots, as in the case of Stubby.
Stubby with his numerous military decorations
Stubby was a Staffordshire terrier mix puppy adopted by Private J. Robert Conroy while he was training for combat. Stubby became the mascot of the 102nd Infantry, 26th Yankee Division, and he learned the calls, drills, and salutes. Private Conroy smuggled Stubby onto the SS Minnesota when the division shipped out to France, and Stubby won over the commanding officer when he gave the officer his dog salute.
When the division reached France, Stubby was allowed to accompany it to front lines and serve as their mascot—but he did much more.
Private J. Robert Conroy and Stubby in France
His sense of smell allowed him to detect enemy gas before the men, and he would run through the camp barking, sounding the alarm, and saving the lives of the troops. He also saved the lives of many soldiers because he could locate the wounded on the battlefield and would lead the soldiers to safety or bark until medics arrived.
One day, Stubby caught a German spy attempting to make a map of Allied trenches, and he attacked the man until American soldiers arrived. For this act, Stubby was unofficially promoted to sergeant.
By the end of the war, Stubby had served in 17 battles. At the Battle of Seicheprey on April 20, 1918, shrapnel from a shell seriously injured Stubby, and he was rushed to a field hospital for treatment and then to a Red Cross hospital for recovery. During his recovery, Stubby went around the hospital and visited wounded soldiers, boosting their morale. Stubby received many awards and medals for his outstanding service, including one awarded by General John Pershing.
Horses and Mules
Dogs and pigeons played a crucial a role in World War I, but horses and mules are perhaps the animals most commonly associated with the Great War. Sketches from the American Expeditionary Forces show both animals constantly in the background, and even the foreground, of American military activity.
Barn with Mules, Boucq. J. Andre Smith. Official Art from the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
They were used as beasts of burden to pull pieces of artillery, supply trains, and other materials. Horses also served as transportation for soldiers and as integral members of cavalry units. In fact, horses and their transportation capabilities were so important on the battlefields of the Great War that they were seen as the key to saving soldiers’ lives.
"He's Ready to Fight—Are You?" National Guard. Princeton University Poster Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.
The American Red Star Animal Relief created posters that urged people to "Help the Horse to Save the Soldier," depicting a soldier holding his wounded horse. This relief organization was founded on June 27, 1916, with the purpose of functioning essentially as a Red Cross for U.S. Army animals.
American Red Star Animal Relief, organized by the American Humane Association, started a veterinary corps and recruited experienced veterinarians, blacksmiths, and stable hands to serve in its ranks. The organization created and distributed over 80,000 booklets to American soldiers that detailed first aid for horses, and it supplied veterinary ambulances and medical supplies to Army camps.
"Help the Horse to Save the Soldier." Fortunino Matania. American Red Star Animal Relief. Princeton University Poster Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.
The new technology of machine guns and tanks made these efforts by the American Red Star Animal Relief all the more important because horses sustained much graver injuries. Today, the American Red Star Animal Relief is the American Humane Association's Red Star Animal Emergency Services. The Red Star now works on its own, responding to disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and animal cruelty cases.
The essential role that horses and mules played in World War I did not go unrecognized: the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum erected a plaque dedicated to the horses and mules that served in the American Expeditionary Forces during the Great War. It states, "A fitting tribute to their important services has been given by... General John J. Pershing who has written 'The army horses and mules proved of inestimable value in prosecuting the war to a successful conclusion. They were found in all the theaters of preparation and operation doing their silent but faithful work without the faculty of hoping for any reward or compensation.'" The plaque also says that "what they suffered is beyond words to describe."
Tribute to World War I Horses and Mules. Image courtesy of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum.
By the time soldiers noticed the presence of mustard gas on the battlefield, it was often too late. Dr. Paul Bartsch of the Division of Mollusks in the U.S. National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History) discovered that slugs could detect mustard gas well before humans could. The slugs would visibly indicate their discomfort by closing their breathing pores and compressing their bodies, and soldiers in the trenches would quickly put on their gas masks to protect themselves from harmful levels of gas. The "slug brigade" ended up saving many lives.
Gas mask from World War I
What all of our soldiers sacrifice and suffer is beyond words to describe. This Veterans Day, as we remember and give thanks for the brave men and women who have given so much in the service of our country, let us also remember the animals who provided them aid, comfort, and companionship.
Leah Tams is the James Lollar Hagan intern in Armed Forces History. She recommends learning more about military cats, other animals in war, and the history of the Red Star. She also recommends Animals in the Military: From Hannibal’s Elephants to the Dolphins of the U.S. Navy by John M. Kistler.
Long voyages at sea can be lonely, so sailors throughout history have taken animals on board. Dogs and cats are the most popular companions—as on land, also on water—but the British Royal Navy has plenty of other critters that have joined its ranks.
Some of the most memorable of this maritime menagerie are highlighted by Steven Gray at The Guardian. The animals that voyaged with the fleets grew so numerous that the Royal Navy’s training facility on Whale Island, Portsmouth, built a "sailor’s zoo" in 1893. "By 1935 there were lions in spacious cages, marsupials in grass paddocks and birds in aviaries," Gray writes.
One such mascot was Barbara, a polar bear who had been rescued from an ice floe near Greenland during World War II. Since keeping a live polar bear in close quarters with humans is dangerous, the Navy retired her to Whale Island, where she died before the zoo closed in 1940. She rests there still, buried next to other naval mascots such as Jack the parrot, who survived a cyclone, a black bear named Amelia and other animals.
Animals have served in all branches of the military but were particularly popular with many navies, according to Arnold Arluke and Robert Bogdan’s book Beauty and the Beast: Human-Animal Relations as Revealed in Real Photographs. Some of the mascots were smuggled on board, others were gifts from foreign governments or domestic municipalities and ushered on with "presentation ceremonies where the mascot made the transition from land to sea, from civilian to navy life," the authors write.
While the sailors may have enjoyed the animal company, life aboard a ship can't have been as pleasant for the animals themselves. More recent pairings of navies and animal mascots have left the non-humans happier and safe on land, as is the case of the recent adoption of a lemur crewmen named Artful.
Britain wasn’t the only country to have naval mascots. Bears were predictably popular on U.S. ships during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidential terms, Arluke and Bogdan note in their book. Goats were long associated with the navy as a source of food because they were smaller than cows and less picky about their own food. But as food supply to ships improved, goats transitioned to pets. There are several stories about the first goat to attend the Army-Navy game, but after a midshipman recruited one named "El Cid" off the USS New York to attend a 1893 match, the tradition stuck.
"Bill the Goat" is still an official mascot of the U.S. Navy, although the animal (or rather, one of his successors) stays ashore nowadays and represents the officers playing the field during the Army-Navy football game.
Currently, U.S. navy ships are goat-free. Along with other animals, they were banned. One captain who ignored regulations and kept a three-year-old pygmy goat named Charlie on board his missile cruiser apparently lost his job in the spring of 2015. The monkeys, bears, dogs, cats and others spared the distress of close quarters and seasickness would probably thank those responsible for the change. As would the sailors who no longer have to clean up after the navy's animal mascots.
In 1922, four years after her American son was killed in action in World War I, Sallie Maxwell Bennett received a letter from Emil Merkelbach, a German officer who had fought against her son in the battle that ended his life.
"You will look upon my writing, no doubt, as something unusual, and rightly so, for it is indeed not exactly usual for a former enemy of his own accord to report about his opponent in the World War. I was myself a German officer in the World War."
Emil Merkelbach was the leader of a German balloon squadron stationed in occupied northern France in August 1918. Balloons were used by both the Allied and Central powers during the war as a way to observe enemy targets at a greater distance and from behind the front lines, allowing armies to more accurately aim their long-range artillery. Antiaircraft machine guns defended the balloons from the ground and patrolling airplanes protected them from the air. Armies' reliance on balloon observations, and the firepower employed to protect them, made balloons both an important and dangerous target for fighter pilots like Louis Bennett Jr., Mrs. Bennett's son.
Louis, a Yale student from a prominent West Virginian family, had organized the West Virginia Flying Corps in early 1917 with the idea of training pilots to join the U.S. Army as part of a proposed West Virginia aerial unit. However, when the War Department rejected this idea and required that Louis go through the standard Army training program, he decided instead to join the British Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force or RAF) in October 1917 with the hope of fighting on the front as soon as possible. He left his studies at Yale in the middle of his Senior year and, after attending flight school in Canada and additional training in England, was eventually stationed in northern France in the summer of 1918.
During the ten days he served in combat before being killed in action, Louis shot down three enemy planes and nine balloons, four of which he shot down in one day. These feats not only earned him the distinction of being named a flying ace, and West Virginia's only World War I ace, but also placed him among the top of all World War I flying aces. Merkelbach saw Louis's impressive skill and total fearlessness first-hand on the battlefield, which he remembered years later and which eventually prompted him to write to Mrs. Bennett.
"[I] had an opportunity to admire the keenness and bravery of your son; for this reason I should like to give you the following short description [of Louis's final battle]. . . . I had been up several hours observing, and was at a height of 1000 meters. Over the enemy's front circled continuously two hostile airplanes. . . . I immediately gave the command to my men below to haul in my balloon. . . . When still about 300 meters high, I saw [another] German balloon . . . plunge to earth burning. At the same moment I saw the hostile flyer (Louis) come toward my balloon at terrific speed, and immediately the defensive fire of my heavy machine rifles below and of the anti-aircraft guns began; but the hostile aviator did not concern himself about that. . . . [He] opened fire on me. . . . I saw the gleaming fire of the missiles flying toward me, but fortunately was not hit. The hostile machine was shot into flames by the fire of my machine guns. The enemy aviator tried to spring from the aeroplane before the latter plunged to the ground and burned completely."
Merkelbach ordered the ambulance corps to attend to the "brave and severely wounded enemy." Louis was unconscious and severely burned. Both of his legs were broken, and he had a bullet wound in his head. He died just hours later in a German field hospital on August 24, 1918. The Germans buried him with military honors in an unmarked grave.
"A bold and brave officer had met his death."
Back home in West Virginia, four days after her son's death, Mrs. Bennett received a telegram from the Secretary of the British Air Ministry informing her that Louis was missing in action. She immediately wrote to her contacts in Europe offering a reward for more information and promising that she would spare no expense to locate the body if he had been killed. Having lost her husband to unexpected illness only weeks earlier, Mrs. Bennett spent a desolate and difficult two months waiting for word of her son. While she continued to work her contacts in Europe to try to locate Louis, she received a number of conflicting accounts from members of his squadron, some stating that he had been taken as a prisoner of war, some stating that he had been killed.
In the midst of all of this, she was also struggling to help settle her late husband's estate and became gravely ill with the "Spanish flu" that was sweeping the globe in a deadly pandemic. Finally, at the end of October 1918, she received official confirmation from the American Red Cross that Louis had been killed in action two months earlier. Although conflicting reports stated that he was buried in either France or Belgium, at last she knew that he was gone.
Mrs. Bennett spent the next several months attempting to travel to Europe to locate Louis's grave, first using her influential contacts to obtain a passport and, once in England, to gain permission to travel to France. Finally, in March 1919, with the help of the U.S. Army, the American Red Cross, and the local villagers, she found herself standing at his unmarked grave, number 590, in a military cemetery in Wavrin, near Lille in northern France. She had finally found her son.
Despite his distinguished combat service, Louis Bennett Jr. never received any service awards from either the British or American governments. In an attempt to right this wrong Mrs. Bennett spent the rest of her life honoring her son's memory, eventually erecting memorials in three different countries. The first memorial was completed in 1919 when she rebuilt the church in Wavrin, France where Louis was buried. The church and town had been utterly destroyed by the retreating German army, and Mrs. Bennett rebuilt the church in dedication to her son's memory on the one-year anniversary of his death. The rebuilt church was also her way of thanking the local curate and villagers who had not only helped her locate Louis's grave, but had helped her smuggle his remains out of the military cemetery, in direct violation of French law, so he could eventually be laid to rest in West Virginia.
The memorials continued in 1922 with a stained glass window in Westminster Abbey overlooking the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Dedicated to Louis and to all members of Royal Flying Corps who died in World War I, the window features Archangel Michael, the patron saint of airmen, looking down at Louis, who is depicted as an angel holding a shield. In 1923 she donated a 16th-century Flemish tapestry in honor of Louis to St. Thomas's Church in New York City, where he had been confirmed as a boy.
In 1922 Mrs. Bennett donated the family's mansion and extensive collection of books to Lewis County as a war memorial and public library in honor of her deceased husband and son. The Louis Bennett Public Library opened in 1923 and is still in operation today. Mrs. Bennett also had the local airport renamed in Louis's honor and established a memorial organization that met every year in Weston on the anniversary of Louis's death to honor his memory. On Armistice Day in 1925, she unveiled The Aviator, a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall bronze sculpture sitting on a granite base. Sculpted by Augustus Lukeman, the sculpture features Louis in uniform with wings on his back and is dedicated to all Americans who lost their lives in World War I. The pedestal bears the inscription, "And thus this man died, leaving his spirit as an example of able courage, not only unto young men, but unto all the nation."
Although never given an official award for his service, Louis Bennett Jr.'s courage and skill clearly inspired those around him to honor his memory in their own way: from the enemy German army that buried him with full military honors, to his mother who memorialized him across multiple countries, and finally to Emil Merkelbach, an enemy officer, who was inspired to write a glowing, respectful letter in memorial four years after they had fought on the battlefield.
"I hope that the foregoing lines, a memorial to your son, will be received by you living—he was my bravest enemy. Honor to his memory. With respect, Emil Merkelbach"
Patri O'Gan is a project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. She recommends reading more about the Bennetts. She has also blogged about the creative use of cars, planes, and trains in the struggle for woman suffrage.
The ivory trade is devastating elephant populations and poaching has pushed rhinoceros species to the brink of extinction. But those are not the only species under threat by the multi-billion dollar illegal trade in wildlife. Tigers are targeted for their “medicinal” properties; pangolins, a type of scaled anteater, are imported to Asia by the ton because they are considered delicacy. The gall bladder from a grizzly bear can command $10,000 on the black market.
Poachers and smugglers have gotten sneaky in the ways they smuggle animals across borders (though the Chinese man who tried to smuggle a tortoise onto a plane by pretending it was hamburger gets first prize). That’s one reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awards grants to innovative projects designed to halt the wildlife trade. This year, the agency is giving $1.2 million dollars to 11 projects in 12 countries.
“These grants provide much-needed resources to support projects on the ground where wildlife trafficking is devastating some of Earth’s most cherished and most unusual species,” USFWS director Dan Ashe says in the press release. “These grant recipients are using pioneering approaches to address the illegal wildlife trade in the places where it starts and where demand for wildlife products feeds the criminal supply chain of illegal goods.”
Among the recipients are projects to train patrols to combat tiger poachers in Indonesia and another to train sniffer dogs to detect the horns of saiga, an endangered antelope species, in Kazakhstan. Several of the grants are going to projects aimed at reducing the demand for pangolins in China, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
But the most innovative program, or at least the strangest, is a $100,000 project in Tanzania to train African pouched rats to sniff out smuggled pangolins and illegal hardwoods, reports Oliver Milan at The Guardian. The three-foot long rats have an excellent sense of smell and were previously taught to sniff out landmines by Dutch product designer Bart Weetjens. Rats from his organization APOPO have also helped doctors sniff out 5,000 cases of tuberculosis form saliva samples. Now they are being trained to do the same with pangolins, certain woods and eventually other species.
According to a project description, this initial test is just the first step in a larger project to “mainstream the rats as an innovative tool in combating the illegal wildlife trade.”
In recent years Northern New Jersey has spawned famous groups of friends—the Four Seasons, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Tony Soprano’s gang—but at the nation’s founding, another posse of boys from North Jersey captured both the bright promise and the grimy underside of the new American republic.
Aaron Burr, Jonathan Dayton and the brothers Aaron and Matthias Ogden grew up together in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), then stormed across the nation, hell-bent on winning power and wealth. They found plenty of both, along with their share of troubles.
Their high-water mark came in 1803, when Vice President Burr presided over a U.S. Senate in which Dayton and Aaron Ogden were the members from New Jersey. But they also knew bitter humiliations: Burr was indicted for murder in two states. He and Dayton were charged with treason. In his old age, Aaron Ogden went to prison for debt, while Dayton never escaped rumors that he was a smuggler and swindler. Only Matthias Ogden avoided such calamities. He died at age 36.
They were boys of fortunate birth. Burr arrived in 1756, the same year his father was president of the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton). Dayton was born in 1760, the year after his father, a merchant, led New Jersey troops in the British capture of Quebec from France. The Ogdens were born in 1754 (Matthias) and 1756 (Aaron); their father was speaker of the colonial assembly and a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765.
Yet their privileges were tempered. Burr’s parents died before he was 3. He and his sister were taken in by an uncle and his wife, the former Rhoda Ogden. Their crowded household included Aunt Rhoda’s brothers, Matthias and Aaron Ogden. Dayton, a neighbor and two years younger still, rounded out their group.
They filled their days with sailing, fishing and crabbing. The Ogden brothers were large and powerful, while Dayton grew to a considerable height. Yet Burr, small and slender, was the leader. Independent from the start, he ran away from home twice. At 10, he signed on as cabin boy on a New York merchantman until his uncle retrieved him.
Matthias Ogden and the precocious Burr attended Princeton together. As the Revolutionary War began in 1775, they volunteered to join Benedict Arnold’s daring winter invasion of Canada. Ogden was wounded before the attack on Quebec City that December, while Burr’s courage in the doomed American assault became legendary. After Ogden returned home to recuperate (and married Dayton’s older sister, Hannah), the friends pitched back into war.
Burr’s star rose quickly. As a 21-year-old lieutenant colonel, he commanded a regiment at the sweltering battle of Monmouth in June 1778, where he suffered heatstroke. His health damaged, Burr left the army the following year.
Ogden also became colonel, serving at Monmouth and at Fort Ticonderoga in New York. In 1780, British raiders captured him and Capt. Jonathan Dayton while sleeping at an Elizabethtown tavern, but Matthias was not done with war. After a prisoner exchange, he joined the American forces that cornered Cornwallis at Yorktown in the summer of 1781. But it was his younger brother, Maj. Aaron Ogden, who won glory in the attack on British defenses.
In 1782, Matthias Ogden won Washington’s approval for a scheme worthy of the Scarlet Pimpernel. He proposed to set fire to the outlying districts of New York City, then abduct Prince William Henry, the future King William IV, from his quarters there. The British blocked the plot when they destroyed Ogden’s boats.
Dayton’s military record was less gaudy. He began the war as paymaster in his father’s battalion, while whispers placed him amid the illegal smuggling between Elizabethtown and the British in New York.
In the New Republic
In peacetime, the Jersey Boys leapt at the great opportunities before them. They were distinguished veterans with Princeton degrees. They knew the right people. And they were determined to succeed.
Dayton started fastest, serving as the youngest delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when he was 26 years old. Elected as a Federalist to the House of Representatives, he became speaker from 1795 to 1799. In the late 1790s, when the United States teetered on the brink of war with France, Dayton was named brigadier general. A British diplomat recalled him as “a great rake” who confided that “he thought a reward should be offered for the discovery of a new pleasure.”
Drawing on his family’s wealth, Dayton led syndicates that speculated in lands in Ohio and beyond, deals that often carried a whiff of fraud and self-dealing. Matthias Ogden and Burr gave legal advice on his deals, and all of the Jersey Boys invested in them. Though one contemporary called Dayton “an unprincipled speculator, and crafty politician,” Dayton lent his name to the city founded on his Ohio lands.
Matthias Ogden, too, greeted peace with energy. In addition to his law practice and western investments, he won the New York-Philadelphia mail contract, owned a stagecoach line and built both a tannery and a mint. In 1791, however, yellow fever extinguished his bright promise.
Aaron Ogden started his law practice in New Jersey, while Burr built his in New York City. Burr entered politics as the only non-Federalist among the Jersey Boys. He became New York State’s attorney general, then United States senator in 1791. By the turn of the century, he was the foremost Northern figure in the Republican Party led by Thomas Jefferson.
Image by The Granger Collection, New York. Aaron Burr grew up in Elizabethtown, New Jersey and presided over the U.S. Senate as Vice President in 1803. He was also indicted for murder in two states. (original image)
Image by The Granger Collection, New York. Elizabethtown, New Jersey, now known as Elizabeth, was home to four men hell-bent on winning power and wealth. (original image)
Image by The Granger Collection, New York. Jonathan Dayton was born in 1760 and grew up in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He was Burr's chief aide and after Burr's scheme to invade Spanish Florida, Texas and Mexico failed, the two were charged with treason. (original image)
Image by The Granger Collection, New York. Aaron Ogden was born in 1756 and grew up in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. In his old age, Ogden went to prison for debt. (original image)
Burr maintained friendships among Federalists and Republicans alike, which led both to mistrust him. Of the Republicans, a friend observed that “they respect Burr’s talents, but they dread his independence. They know, in short, he is not one of them.” Friendship was stronger than party for the Jersey Boys. When Burr emerged as the leading Republican candidate for vice president in 1796, the Federalist Dayton was suspected of scheming to get his boyhood friend elected.
Burr’s perceived independence led him to the threshold of the presidency four years later—and began his slide to political oblivion. At the time, each state chose electors who cast two votes for president. The candidate with the highest vote total became president so long as he had a majority; the runner-up became vice president.
The system foundered in 1800, when the Republicans tagged Jefferson for president and Burr for vice president. To elect both men, all Republican electors should have cast a vote for Jefferson, while all but one should have cast their second vote for Burr. That would have placed Jefferson first and Burr second. But the balloting was bungled, leaving Jefferson and Burr in a tie. The election shifted to the House of Representatives in March 1801.
Federalist congressmen supported Burr for president as the lesser of two evils. Though he continued to support Jefferson’s candidacy, Burr said he would accept the office if the House chose him. Emboldened, Federalists backed Burr through 35 deadlocked votes in the House, until he instructed them not to. Two ballots later, Jefferson prevailed.
The ordeal irretrievably soured feelings between Burr and the new president, a wound only partially assuaged in 1803, when Dayton and Aaron Ogden served in the Senate over which Burr presided. Jefferson froze Burr out of both patronage and governing, then dropped him from the Republican ticket for 1804. That spring, trying to repair his fortunes, Burr ran for governor of New York against another Republican. He lost.
Caught in a downward spiral, Burr moved decisively to accelerate it. He learned that Alexander Hamilton, the former secretary of the Treasury, had referred to him as “despicable.” Burr demanded a retraction or satisfaction on the field of honor. Hamilton chose the field of honor. They met on July 11, 1804, in Weehawken, New Jersey, just 15 miles from Elizabethtown. Both men lost: Hamilton his life, Burr his political future.
Within days, Vice President Burr was in flight from New York. Within weeks, he had been indicted for murder in both New York and New Jersey.
In this desperate situation, Burr turned to his boyhood friends. He retained Aaron Ogden to defend him in the New Jersey murder case. And for the most audacious adventure of his life, Burr turned to Dayton.
Burr’s new plan ripened after he left the vice presidency in March 1805. In eight months of journeying through the American West, he began scheming with Gen. James Wilkinson, the traitorous head of the U.S. Army. With American troops, or with private adventurers, Burr proposed to invade Spanish Florida, Texas and Mexico. Simultaneously, he believed, the French-speaking residents of New Orleans and the recent Louisiana Purchase would revolt against American rule. Once in control of New Orleans, Burr expected the West to join a new empire that would girdle the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida Keys to Central America.
Dayton was Burr’s chief aide. He introduced Burr to friends through the West. He met with British and Spanish diplomats to offer Burr’s assistance in leading the secession of western lands. Neither did Burr forget the two sons of his old friend Matthias Ogden: George Ogden became the scheme’s banker; in late 1806, Peter Ogden carried critical instructions from Burr and Dayton to the army chief.
When Wilkinson betrayed Burr, the plan swiftly unraveled. Although Burr intended to lead more than 1,000 adventurers down the Mississippi River, only 100 materialized. He was arrested above Natchez and hauled to Richmond to stand trial for treason. A separate indictment, handed up in the summer of 1807, accused Dayton, too.
Burr won his freedom in a landmark trial before Chief Justice John Marshall, a victory that cut off the case against Dayton. Aaron Ogden then squelched the New Jersey indictment stemming from the duel with Hamilton, freeing Burr to sail to Europe to seek British support in liberating Spain’s American colonies.
Steamboats and Interstate Commerce
After Burr’s debacles, he and Dayton could hardly run for public office, but Aaron Ogden won a term as New Jersey’s governor in 1812. The three surviving friends turned their attentions to steamboats, the technological wonder of the era.
In 1807, Robert Fulton unveiled the first viable steamboat design and won a legal monopoly from New York State on the lucrative Hudson River trade. Aaron Ogden, who owned a steam engine plant in Elizabethtown, emerged as a determined competitor. He fought the Fulton monopoly for several years, then paid dearly to acquire a share of it in 1815.
Just when matters should have grown easier for Ogden, trouble arose with Thomas Gibbons, an abrasive lawyer and businessman. First, Ogden had Gibbons arrested to collect a debt. Ogden apologized, claiming the arrest resulted from misunderstandings. But when Gibbons’ wife, Ann, sought advice about divorcing her husband, he provided it.
Gibbons sought leverage through Ogden’s oldest friends. He had secretly purchased from Dayton, who was struggling financially, an interest in Ogden’s ferry business. He dispatched Dayton to persuade Ogden to drop Ann Gibbons’ cause. Gibbons then turned to Burr, who was trying to revive his law practice in New York. Burr advised a court attack on Ogden’s monopoly. Gibbons filed the case.
That lawsuit lasted for years, long after Ogden lost his steamboat business to his bank. Marshall’s opinion in Gibbons v. Ogden, delivered in 1824, struck down Ogden’s monopoly, ruling that states cannot limit interstate commerce under the Constitution.
But the Jersey Boys’ friendship survived even that. In that same year, Ogden and Dayton jointly hosted an old comrade, the Marquis de Lafayette. Dayton, 64, died a few weeks later.
When Ogden’s debts landed him in a New York prison, Burr rode to the rescue. He won enactment of a state law providing that no veteran of the Revolutionary War could be jailed for debt. Ogden was released.
In the 1830s, the two Aarons resided for a brief time as neighbors in Jersey City, and each lived past 80. (Burr died in 1836, Odgen in 1839.) Their long histories reflected the adventure of the infant America, where opportunity and disaster lay side by side, where everything seemed possible to those who were–like the original Jersey Boys–bold, talented and not too fussy about what other people thought.
David O. Stewart’s new book, American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America, explores Burr’s western expedition, the most audacious scheme of the leader of the Original Jersey Boys. His previous books are The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, and Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy.
Like any good spy story, it started with cocktails. Stanley Weiss first encountered Guy Burgess drinking in the lounge aboard the RMS Caronia in the summer of 1950. Weiss was returning to America after several years in Europe; Burgess was moving there as a British diplomat. Over the course of the journey and in the months that followed, the men became friends. Weiss was astounded by Burgess’s skills as a conversationalist, his easy charisma and his connections to the world’s most important people. But there was one thing Burgess didn't share with his new friend: his true identity as a double agent for the Soviets.
Burgess was a member of the infamous Cambridge Five, a group of British double agents including Harold “Kim” Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and possibly others, who ostensibly worked in the upper echelons of their government but actually used their connections and access to spy for the Soviet Union. Like the other members of the spy ring, Burgess saw Western powers appease Hitler before engaging in war. To Burgess and his fellow spies, it seemed as if the Soviet Union was the only true stronghold against the advance of Nazism.
Recruited by Czech Communist Arnold Deutsch, the Cambridge Five were avowed Communists who either quit their membership in the party or never joined it in order to provide cover for their work. The tactic was so effective that Philby was actually appointed to head of the anti-Soviet section of MI6 (the British intelligence office) near the end of World War II. All the men stole documents from the British Foreign Office and intelligence agencies like MI5 and MI6, and several continued their work in America. According to a once-secret archive smuggled out of the Soviet Union by a defector, Burgess alone handed over 389 secret documents to the KGB in the first half of 1945, and another 168 four years later.
Burgess had an impeccable—and impressive—social pedigree. He owned a book signed by Winston Churchill and was friends with Churchill’s niece, Clarissa. He knew writers like W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, the economist John Maynard Keynes, and officials in MI5 and MI6. Burgess talked to his new American friend about Beethoven and the American obsession with annual holidays. He inspired Weiss to enroll in Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and became his most glamorous friend.
But Burgess was far from the suave, polished spy regularly seen in pop culture. He was regularly drunk, ostentatious and openly homosexual at a time when to be so was a crime. “Burgess appears to be a complete alcoholic and I do not think that even in Gibraltar I have ever seen anyone put away so much hard liquor in so short a time as he did,” said one MI5 representative in 1949. During Burgess’s time at the BBC, a superior complained about his exorbitant expenditures: “I realize that a certain amount of drinking at the bar is inevitable, but I cannot believe that it is not possible to do business with responsible [Members of Parliament] except at the bar.”
This extravagant drunkenness helped Burgess avoid suspicion, but it also led to indiscretions. He once dropped a pile of documents stolen from the Foreign Office when he was drunk, and even told Weiss that his coworker, Philby, was a spy—though Weiss didn’t recognize it as a revelation at the time, as he writes in his memoir, Being Dead is Bad for Business.
“He told me all about his job—the official duties of the Second Secretary at the U.K. Embassy. He made it seem very glamorous—endless parties and glamorous dignitaries,” Weiss recalled via email. But Burgess left out any talk of Communism or the Soviet Union, and Weiss never suspected he was a spy.
As the Cold War intensified, suspicions about spies grew on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In 1943, the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Service began VENONA, a secret program to examine and decode encrypted Soviet communications. The messages took months to decode, but in 1949 an FBI cryptanalyst discovered that a member of the British Embassy was spying for the KGB. Maclean, they suspected, was the mole, and he was placed under MI5 surveillance in 1951. But Philby, who worked as British intelligence liaison to the FBI and CIA at the time, learned of the decryption and told Maclean and Burgess that they were both likely to be discovered soon. The two spies fled to Moscow in May 1951, confirming all suspicions held against them and causing outrage in the U.S.
In the week following the revelation of Burgess and Maclean’s identities, Weiss learned the truth from a newspaper. “I was absolutely shocked to see my friend Guy Burgess on the front page,” Weiss recalled. “I learned later that Guy had abandoned his vintage Lincoln Continental at a local Washington garage and had left his prized book autographed by Churchill at a friend’s place in New York.”
Despite his work for the U.S.S.R., the spies were never fully trusted by their handlers, and Burgess seems to have become unhappy in Moscow. Defection itself wasn’t a crime under English law. But as-yet-undiscovered spy Anthony Blunt warned Burgess that a trial would have disastrous results for the entire circle.
Burgess, it seemed, was trapped. He continued carousing in Russia, and was visited periodically by British reporters like Edward Crankshaw, who despised the spy’s treachery but later admitted that “I liked him much and finished up being deeply sorry for him. The man is half dotty, not actively vicious. The whole situation is the sort of personal tragedy that can only be ended by death.”
Death—and drinking—finally ended Burgess’s exile. He died of acute liver failure on August 30, 1963 at age 52. It was an ignominious end for one of Britain’s most notorious characters, but Burgess’s legacy (and that of the Cambridge Five) lived on in pop culture through stories like John LeCarré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
As for Weiss, he never forgot the spy who inadvertently shaped his life. “Guy Burgess did a lot for me at a very crucial time in my young life,” Weiss said. Burgess helped him through a bad breakup, suggested he attend college to become a diplomat, and introduced him to other diplomats—as well as gin and tonics.
“Guy Burgess opened up a whole new world and a new path in my life at one of my lowest moments,” Weiss said. “The actual memories I have of him are positive ones. I knew him when I was 24—there’s not much about my life that didn’t change pretty significantly after that point.
Every day a work of art is stolen somewhere in the world. Thieves rip paintings from walls, sever canvases from their frames with razors or even screwdrivers, raid warehouses with assault rifles, saw sculptures from their bases with chainsaws and haul them away in trucks. In February, three masked men raided the E.G. Burhle Collection, a small museum in Zurich, Switzerland. At gunpoint, they forced patrons and museum staffers to the floor and made off with four 19th-century paintings worth about $165 million. Two of the paintings were later found in an unlocked car parked at a psychiatric facility, less than a mile from the museum. The thieves and the other two paintings remain missing. According to the Art Loss Register, a private company that tracks and recovers purloined art, at least 10,500 works of art and antiquities were stolen last year.
Art crime's history is long and bloody, dominated by the plundering of invading armies. Think of the eight Egyptian obelisks that still anchor the piazzas of Rome, spoils of the ancient Roman Empire's conquest of the Nile kingdom. Napoleon famously looted thousands of pieces from Italy. And innumerable works were stolen by the Nazis, forcibly sold, or otherwise lost, during World War II.
More recently, museums and ancient sites in Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered massive losses amid armed conflict while countries such as Cambodia, with rich artistic histories but meager resources to protect them, see their treasures smuggled out of the country and lost to history.
Most art crime, however, occurs on a much smaller scale, with about 40 percent of thefts reported to the Art Loss Register coming from private homes or collections and about 15 percent from museums and galleries. Whether it's a dramatic museum heist or opportunistic house-burglary, all of them fuel a lucrative black market. Because most thefts go unreported, the illegal trade in art and antiquities amounts to roughly a $6-billion a year industry. What's stolen changes with the fashion of the times, but unlike the stock market, the market for stolen art and antiquities has never and likely never will collapse.
Image by Free Agents Limited/CORBIS. Stolen from the Louvre Museum, Paris, France, 1911
Displeased that such a monumental work by the legendary Italian artist hung in a French museum, a Louvre workman from Italy named Vincenzo Perugia hid in the museum after closing one night and cut the masterpiece from its frame. Among the suspects French authorities interviewed regarding the theft was Pablo Picasso. Two years later, Perugia was caught and the painting was recovered when he tried to sell it for $100,000 to the Uffizi museum in Florence, Italy. (original image)
Image by Archivo Iconografico, S.A. / Corbis. Stolen from the St. Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, 1934
Status: Still missing
In the early 1400s Flemish painter Hubert Van Eyck began work on an elaborate altarpiece for the St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. Comprising 24 different scenes, the panel painting may at one time have included mechanized movement and music. In 1934, The Just Judges panel was stolen from the altarpiece's lower register. The panel was never recovered and is feared destroyed, but it did find lasting fame in Albert Camus’ 1956 novel, “The Fall.” (original image)
Image by Pizzoli Alberto/Corbis Sygma. Stolen October 1969
Status: Still missing
After killing a young man in Rome in 1606, the revolutionary young artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, master of chiaroscuro and intense realism, went into exile. During this time he produced dozens of masterworks, including an emotional nativity scene for the church of San Lorenzo in Palermo, Sicily. In October 1969, two thieves cut the nativity scene from its frame. The painting has never been found and is feared destroyed. (original image)
Image by The Irish Image Collection/Corbis. Stolen from Russborough House, Ireland, 1975-2002
Status: Partially recovered
Russborough House, which holds the Alfred Beit collection of fine art (including masterpieces by artists such as Rubens, Goya and Gainsborough) seems to be a chronic target for art heists. The first robbery occurred in 1974, when Irish Republican Army members stole 19 paintings. The paintings were found and the thieves jailed. In 1986, a gang led by Dublin crime boss Martin Cahill took 18 paintings. Of the lot, 16 have been recovered. In 2001, an armed gang stole a Gainsborough and a work by Belotto. The following year, thieves took five paintings, which were later recovered. (original image)
Image by Danny Lehman/CORBIS. Stolen from the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, Mexico, 1985
Status: Most items recovered in 1989
After visiting the museum at least 50 times to calculate what they would steal and how, the thieves broke into the grounds on Christmas Eve. They crawled through ductwork to reach the galleries from where they took 124 small but incredibly valuable Mayan, Aztec, Mixtec and Zapotec objects, including a vase then valued at more than $20 million. Two years later, 111 of the artifacts were found in a private home, the other 13 artifacts remain lost. (original image)
Image by Bettmann/CORBIS. Stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA, March 18, 1990
Status: Still missing
In what may be the biggest art heist in U.S. history, two thieves dressed as Boston police entered the museum and stole 13 works worth an estimated $300 million: Vermeer's The Concert, three works by Rembrandt, five by Degas, Manet's Chez Tortoni, Flinck's Landscape with an Obelisk, a Shang Dynasty beaker, and a gilt Napoleonic finial. The thieves left the museum's most valuable painting, Titian's Rape of Europa on the wall. Despite a $5 million reward, none of the works have ever been found. (original image)
Image by Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey. Stolen from the Kuwait National Museum and the House of Islamic Antiquities, Kuwait City, Kuwait, 1990-1991
Status: Most items recovered
In a move that recalled the looting habits of long-gone empires, some 20,000 items of Islamic art and craft were taken from the two Kuwaiti museums during the Iraq occupation, loaded onto trucks and driven to Baghdad. Almost all of the items were recovered after the war. (original image)
Image by Eye Ubiquitous/CORBIS. Stolen from the Angkor Wat temple complex, Cambodia, 1993
Status: Still missing
Armed with grenades and assault rifles, some 300 thieves stormed the storehouse of Cambodia's most treasured historical site in February 1993. They quickly overwhelmed the unarmed guards on duty, killing one of them, and made off with 31 statues. The statues joined tens of thousands of other priceless artifacts from the ancient Khmer kingdom on the black market. Looting and international trade of Cambodia's ancient treasures continues at an alarming rate despite domestic and international prevention and recovery efforts. (original image)
Image by Junge Heiko/epa/Corbis. Stolen from the National Gallery of Norway, Oslo, Norway, 1994. Stolen from the Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway, 2004
Status: Both Recovered
The Norwegian artist painted four versions of his most famous work, The Scream; two were stolen. The first theft occurred on February 12, 1994, when two thieves broke into the National Gallery in Oslo. Three men involved in the crime were arrested, and the painting was restored to the museum. A decade later, two men took The Scream and Munch's Madonna from the Munch Museum in Oslo. The paintings were recovered in 2006. (original image)
Image by Reuters/CORBIS. Stolen from the National Museum, Baghdad, Iraq, and from some 12,000 archaeological sites across Iraq in 2003
Status: Partially recovered
In the midst of the fighting during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Baghdad's National Museum, home to countless, priceless Sumerian, Assyrian, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, and Islamic art and artifacts – perhaps the most important collection of such antiquities in the world – was looted, losing an estimated 15,000 pieces. Since then, about 4,000 items have been recovered. Today, illegal digging at archaeological sites continues unabated throughout the country. (original image)
Last Friday, Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor and the world’s oldest man died in Haifa, Israel, at the age of 113, just one month shy of celebrating his 114th birthday, reports Ofer Aderet for Haaretz. Yisrael was born on September 15, 1903, in Zarnow, Poland. Just last March, on his 112th year and 178th day on earth, Guinness World Records certified Kristal as the world’s oldest man.
It’s something of a miracle that Kristal lived as long as he did. Kristal, who grew up in a Jewish Orthodox household, was separated from his parents at the age of 11 during World War I and was eventually orphaned, reports Guinness. During the war, the Associated Press reports, the preteen survived by smuggling booze; he carried heavy packages of illicit alcohol to soldiers on the front lines, sometimes running miles barefoot through the snow.
In 1920, at the age of 17, he moved to the city of Lodz. He got a job at a candy factory and, soon enough, started a family of his own. Then, in 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. All Jewish and Roma people in Kristal's area were forcibly relocated to the Lodz ghetto. The following year, Kristal was shipped to Auschwitz. While he survived years of hard labor in the camps, his wife, Chaja Feige Frucht, and his two children were murdered in the Holocaust.
When Kristal was liberated by the Red Army, he weighed just 81 pounds. According to Liel Leibovitz at Tablet, Kristal celebrated by making candy for his Soviet liberators. He remarried in 1947 and along with his new wife, fellow Holocaust survivor Batsheva and their infant, they emigrated to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. There, they settled in Haifa where Kristal resumed making and selling candies.
According to Aderet, certifying Kristal as the world’s oldest man was difficult since he did not have much official documentation. Haaretz as well as the Gerontology Research Group and Jewish Records Indexing-Poland helped him track down his 1928 wedding certficate, a list of residents of Lodz in 1918 and a list of Auschwitz deportees, all of which helped confirm his age.
Though he was a very devout Jew, as a young man, Kristal never had a chance to celebrate his bar mitzvah—the ceremony signifying the transition to adulthood that usually takes place at age 13 in the Jewish tradition—due to the outbreak of World War I. Last year, among his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he finally took part in the milestone at age 113, the AP reports.
Kristal told Guinness last year that he didn't believe there was a secret to longevity: “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger and better-looking men then me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost."
Aderet reports that Guinness is currently reviewing its records and contacting the gerontology community to find the current oldest-living man. The oldest-living human is currently Jamaica’s Violet Brown, who is 117. The oldest-living man ever recorded is Jiroemon Kimura of Japan, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 116 years, 54 days.