31 Days of History: 31 July

In 1990, Governor of Hawaii John Waihee proclaimed 31 July to be Ka Hae Hawaiʻi Day, or the Hawaiian Flag Day. It has been celebrated each year since then on this day.

Hawaii, the 50th state to be accepted into the Union on 21 August 1950, has a unique flag. It’s the only flag that has flown over a kingdom, a protectorate, a republic, a territory, and a state. It is also the only flag that incorporates the British Union Jack as part of its design—the Union Jack is a holdover of the period in Hawaiian history when it was a British protectorate (1794–1843).

The field of the flag is composed of nine horizontal stripes symbolizing the nine major islands that compose Hawaii (Hawaiʻi, Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Maui, Molokaʻi, Niʻihau and Nihoa).

There are various accounts of the how the flag came into the current design. The most commonly accepted version relates how King Kamehameha I flew a British flag, given to him by British explorer Captain George Vancouver, as a token of friendship with King George III. Kamehameha would often fly the flag from places of honor until one of his advisors noted that the British Flag could draw Hawaii into international conflict as his kingdom could be seen as an ally of the United Kingdom. During and after the War of 1812, a flag of the United States was raised over Kamehameha's home, but British officials objected to this as well. To placate the two nations, Kamehameha combined the two into a new creation.

King Kamehameha

(A brief bit of background: Kamehameha (1738-1819), also known as Kamehameha the Great, conquered the Hawaiian Islands and formally established the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1810. He was the first ruler to bring all the Hawaiian islands under central rule. His full name was Kalani Paiʻea Wohi o Kaleikini Kealiʻikui Kamehameha o ʻIolani i Kaiwikapu kaui Ka Liholiho Kūnuiākea).

King Kamehameha's statue in the Capitol Visitors Center

The DC connection: In the United States Capitol, you can find the National Statuary Hall Collection. Congress has invited each state to select and make two statues of famous, noted individuals from each state and send them to the Capitol. With the addition of New Mexico's second statue in 2005, there are 100 statues scattered throughout the Capitol. (For example, you can find John C. Calhoun and Wade Hampton from South Carolina.) One of Hawaii’s statues is King Kamehameha, and it is the largest statue in the collection, weighing more than 6 tons. You can find it in the New Capitol Visitors Center.

Hawaii's other statue, Father Damien

So if you have a Hawaiian flag, today is the day to fly it proudly!

You can find 50 statues here.

31 Days of History: 30 July

On this day in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law officially declaring "In God We Trust" to be the nation's official motto (there was no national motto prior). The law, P.L. 84-140, also mandated that the phrase be printed on all American paper currency. The phrase had been placed on U.S. coins since the Civil War and the Secretary of the Treasury, George Humphrey, suggested adding the phrase to paper currency as well.

This occurred two years after Eisenhower amended the Pledge of Allegiance to include the phrase "under God".

Of note, one possible origin of the phrase "In God We Trust" comes from Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the poem that would become the National Anthem. Written in 1814, the final stanza contains the phrase:"...And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'."

The arguments supporting and opposing the phrase are varied. Consider the following:

President Eisenhower wrote, "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future. . ."

The 84th United States Congress had required that the words appear on all currency, as a Cold War measure; a sort of religious safety valve. "It is proper to remind all of us of this self-evident truth--that as long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail."

President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money. Roosevelt wrote, "it seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins, just as it would be to cheapen it by use on postage stamps, or in advertisements."

The "Establishment Clause of the First Amendment" states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Critics contend that the motto's placement on money constitutes the "establishment" of a religion by the government. However, the Supreme Court has upheld the motto because it has "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content".

The first paper money with the phrase "In God We Trust" was not printed until 1957.

The argument over the appropriateness of that motto has been raging ever since.

31 Days of History: 29 July

On this day, 29 July 1862 (147 years ago) Confederate spy Marie Isabella "Belle" Boyd is arrested by Union troops and detained at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. It was the first of three arrests for this skilled spy who provided crucial information to the Confederates during the war. Throughout the War, she became known as the “Cleopatra of the Secession”.

Belle Boyd

Belle Boyd was just 17 when the war began. She was from a prominent slaveholding family in Martinsburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), in the Shenandoah Valley. On 4 July 1861, a band of Union army soldiers broke into her home, intent on raising the U.S. flag over the house. When one of them pushed her mother, Belle drew a pistol and killed him. A board of inquiry exonerated her, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers into revealing military secrets. "To him," she wrote later, "I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information." Belle conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case.

After the shooting incident, Boyd realized she could use her “natural gifts” to further the Confederacy. She used her “charms” to engage Union soldiers and officers in conversations and acquire information about Federal military affairs (Historical documents of the day claim she was not blessed with a pretty face, but she was particularly noted for having the best looking ankles around!). As one record states, “She looked at men through her long lashes, assuring them that she had no intentions hostile to the North, while she stole whatever secrets were at hand and filched others practically from their pockets.” Suspecting her of spying, Union officers banished Boyd further south in the Shenandoah, to Front Royal Virginia, in March 1862.

One evening in mid-May 1862, Union General James Shields and his staff gathered in the parlor of the local hotel. Belle hid upstairs, eavesdropping through a knothole in the floor. She learned that Shields had been ordered east from Front Royal, Virginia, a move that would reduce the Union Army's strength at Front Royal. That night, Belle rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Col. Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates. When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on 23 May, Belle ran to greet General Stonewall Jackson's men. She urged an officer to inform Jackson that, "the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all." Jackson did and the Union soldiers were routed and thoroughly defeated. That evening, Gen Jackson penned a note of gratitude to her: "I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today." For her contributions, Boyd was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. (It should be noted that Virginia Code section 18.2-176(b) still remains in effect-making it a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $500, to "wear any Southern Cross of Honor when not entitled to do so by the regulations under which such Crosses of Honor are given.")

The Southern Cross of Honor

Before she reached twenty-one, Boyd had been imprisoned twice, "reported" nearly thirty times, and arrested six or seven. After her lover (read: source) gave her up, Belle Boyd was arrested on 29 July 1862, and brought to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Her incarceration was evidently of limited hardship, as she was given many special considerations, and even she became engaged to a fellow prisoner! Upon her release one month later, she was shipped under a flag of truce to Richmond.

(Historical detour: The Old Capitol Prison was a former boarding house which was turned into a prison during the Civil War. John C. Calhoun, South Carolina politician, former Vice President of the US and one of the leading advocates of slavery and states’ rights died of tuberculosis in the boarding house in May 1850. It was demolished in 1929 and the US Supreme Court was built on the property.)

The Old Capitol Prison and John C. Calhoun

After a second imprisonment, Boyd became a courier of secret messages to Great Britain (the Confederacy was seeking recognition from European countries. In 1864, her ship was captured off the coast of North Carolina, and the ship and crew were taken to New York. Captain Samuel Hardinge, of the USS Connecticut, took command of Boyd's vessel, but when the ship made port in NYC, he was seen dining and shopping with Belle Boyd, his “prisoner”. He followed her to London, and they were married soon after. (There is some evidence that he was relieved from naval service as a result of his conduct with Belle Boyd.)

Boyd was widowed soon after the end of the war, but the union produced one child. Still just 21, Boyd parlayed her spying experiences into a book and an acting career, and was perhaps telling the truth when she wrote, “"A true woman always loves a real soldier.". She died in Wisconsin (!) in 1900.

Belle Boyd's book, published in 1865

To read a detailed account of Belle Boyd’s activities, click here:

31 Days of History: 28 July

On this day in 1868, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is passed, establishing African-American citizenship and guaranteeing due process of law.

As a brief reminder, the Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. It is the foundation and source of the legal authority underlying the existence of the US and it provides the framework for the three main branches of the government: executive, legislative and judicial.

The Constitution was adopted on 17 September 1787, by the Constitutional Convention (or Constitutional Congress]) in Philadelphia and later ratified by conventions in each state. It has been amended (or modified) twenty-seven times. As mentioned earlier, the handwritten original document is on display at the National Archives.

The 14th Amendment, along with the 13th and 15th, are called the “Reconstruction Amendments”, as they were adopted during the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War.

The 14th Amendment represented a significant reversal of the Dred Scott decision (Dred Scott v. Sanford; 1857) which ruled that black people (more specifically, people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves, or their descendants) were not and could not become citizens of the United States, were not protected by the Constitution, nor could they enjoy any of the privileges and immunities of citizenship. Dred Scott also established the slaves were private property of the slave owner.

FYI: The 13th Amendment officially abolished and continues to prohibit slavery and indentured servanthood, while the 15th Amendment prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude" (i.e., slavery).”

31 Days of History: 27 July

On this day in 1909, exactly 100 years ago today, 1909 - Orville Wright set a record for the longest airplane flight. He was testing the first Army airplane and kept it in the air for 1 hour 12 minutes and 40 seconds—this flight took place at Ft Myers, just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC.

I’ve written about Ft Myer (here and here) in the past—it’s where we stayed for 10 days when we first moved to town and were looking for a place to live. It’s an exceedingly small but exceedingly immaculate base—due primarily to its location (immediately adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery), it’s occupants (the Joint Chiefs of Staff and much of the higher Army brass live here) and place in US history.

The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, were two brothers who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained flight on 17 December 1903. Although not the first to build and fly experimental aircraft, the Wright brothers were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed wing flight possible

Orville (left) and Wilbur (right) Wright

After the successful flight of the “Wright Flyer I” at Kill Devil Hill in Kitty Hawk, NC, the Wright brothers continued to refine their technology and applied for a US Patent in 1906 for a "Flying Machine". As mentioned in the post on 25 July, patent applications required demonstrations.

The Wright Flyer I takes flight at Kitty Hawk

Orville demonstrated their invention to the United States Army at Fort Myer, Virginia, on 3 September 1908. It was so successful that on 17 September, Orville had another flight and took Army Lt. Thomas Selfridge along as his passenger, serving as an official observer. Unfortunately, a few minutes into the flight at an altitude of about 100 feet, a propeller split and shattered, sending the aircraft out of control and crashing to the ground. Selfridge suffered a fractured skull in the crash and died that evening in the nearby Army hospital, becoming the first fatality of an airplane crash. Orville was badly injured, suffering a broken left leg and four broken ribs. Seven weeks of hospital rehabilitation followed.

After the crash. . .

Lt. Thomas Selfridge

If you’d like to read the description of the event from the New York Times, click here:

A final flight followed in July 1909 which satisfied the demands of the Patent Office and US Army. They sold the aircraft to the Army's Signal Corps for $30,000.

It should be noted that on 25 May 1910, Orville & Wilbur took a 6 minute flight together, the time the Wright brothers ever flew together. They had promised their father they would never fly together to avoid the chance of a double tragedy. After that flight, Orville took his 82-year old father (Milton) on a nearly seven-minute flight, the first and only one of his life. The airplane rose to about 350 feet while the elderly Wright called to his son, "Higher, Orville, higher!"

31 Days of History: 26 July

Charles E. Bolles was an English-born immigrant who settled in New York when his family came to the United States in 1831. In late 1849, Bolles and his cousin took part in the California Gold Rush, eventually ending up on the North Fork of the American River in northern California. After an unsuccessful attempt at mining gold, Bolles returned east where he met and married Mary Elizabeth Johnson in 1854. By 1860, the couple had made their home in Decatur, Illinois.

Charles E. Bolles

On 13 August 1862, Bolles enlisted as a private in Company B, 116th Illinois Regiment. He was an adequate soldier, taking part in numerous battles and campaigns and was discharged on 7 June 1865 in Washington, D.C. (there’s your only connection to DC for today). He returned home to his wife in Illinois, but the quiet life of farming held little appeal to him. Two years later, he had left to prospect for gold in Idaho and Montana, promising to write to his wife when he “struck it rich”. In an August 1871 letter to his wife he mentioned an unpleasant incident with the Wells Fargo Bank and vowed to “pay them back”. That was his last letter; he stopped writing and never made contact again with his wife. She could only assume he was dead.

Time moves on, and the scenery moves west. It is 1875, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. The Wells Fargo Bank was extremely profitable, and their famous stagecoaches carried large sums of money throughout the west. As a stagecoach slowly winds through the mountain passes, the driver is forced to stop at the sight of a man standing confidently in the middle of the road. He wears a long dirty coat and has a flour sack over his head with a pair of holes cut for the eyes and brandishes a double-barreled 12 gauge shotgun. He politely tells the driver, “Please throw down the box”. The legend of Black Bart-the nicest, most polite, mild-mannered and articulate-stagecoach robber in history- is born.

Here’s where things gets even more interesting. In the early 1870s, the Sacramento Union (a local newspaper) ran a serial-style adventure series called The Case of Summerfield. In the story, the villain, who dressed in black, had long unruly black hair, a large black beard and wild grey eyes, would rob Wells Fargo stagecoaches and brought great fear into those who were unlucky enough to cross him. The character's name was Black Bart, and apparently life decided to imitate art, as “someone” brought Black Bart to life.

Between 1875 and 1883, at least 28 Wells Fargo stagecoaches were robbed across northern California and Oregon. Black Bart was having a very successful career and made off with thousands of dollars a year. To make things more interesting, he began to leave poems at the sites of his crimes as his “signature”. Here are a couple of his poems:

"I've labored long and hard for bread,
For honor and for riches
But on my corns too long you've tread,
You fine-haired sons-of-bitches.”


"Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat
And everlasting sorrow.
Yet come what will, I'll try it once,
My conditions can't be worse,
And if there's money in that box,
'Tis money in my purse.”

Wells Fargo was not content to let these crimes continue. In the 1870’s, they hired James Hume, one of the West’s most prominent detectives and lawmen, as a Special Agent. Hume would spend much of the next 8 years tracking Black Bart. He visited the sites of all the robberies and patiently put together a valuable list of information, interviewing all of the witnesses and Wells Fargo employees that had any connection to the crimes. As hard as he worked, he could never catch Black Bart, who on at least one occasion, told the stagecoach driver (as he was leaving with the cash), “Give my regards to Detective Hume.”

The big break came on 3 November 1883. In the process of robbing a stagecoach outside of Sonoma, Black Bart was wounded by a Wells Fargo driver and fled the scene of the crime. A bloody-handkerchief was left behind with the laundry mark “F.X.0.7”. With this evidence, Hume decided to visit every laundry in California if he had to, starting in San Francisco (that’s where he lived and worked). After visiting 56 laundries, he hit paydirt: the “F.X.0.7” mark was identified as belonging to “C.E. Bolton”, a man who lived in a hotel on Second Street. The arrest of Black Bart was at hand.

James Hume

Bolton described himself as a "mining engineer" and made frequent "business trips" that happened to coincide with the Wells Fargo robberies. After initially denying he was Black Bart, Bolton eventually confessed. When booked, he gave his name as “T. Z. Spalding” but the police found a Bible among his possessions, a gift from his wife, inscribed with his real name: Charles E. Bolles.

Black Bart, aka C.E. Bolton, aka Charles E. Bolles

Bolles was convicted and sentenced to six years in San Quentin Prison, but his stay was shortened to four years for good behavior. When he was released in January 1888, his health had clearly deteriorated-he had visibly aged, his eyesight was failing, and he had gone deaf in one ear. Reporters swarmed around him when he was released. They asked if he was going to rob any more stagecoaches. "No, gentlemen," he replied with a smile. "I'm through with crime."

Bolles disappeared without a trace shortly after his release from prison. His San Francisco boarding-house room was found vacated in February 1888 and he was never seen again. However, one 14 November 1888 (7 months later) another Wells Fargo stagecoach was robbed by a masked highwayman. The lone bandit left a verse that read:

“So here I've stood while wind and rain
Have set the trees a-sobbin,'
And risked my life for that damned box,
That wasn't worth the robbin'”

Once again, Detective Hume was called to examine the note. After comparing it with the Black Bart poetry from the past, he declared the new poetry was the work of a copycat criminal and declared the case closed. No sign of Black Bart, real or imagined, was ever seen again.

31 Days of History: 25 July

On this day in 1966, two men, Michael Pelkey and Brian Schubert, were at the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (California). They walked over to the edge, enjoyed the view, and hurled themselves into the abyss. Pelkey and Schubert are credited with making the first BASE jump (BASE is an acronym that stands for the four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: Bridges, Antennas, Spans and Earth) from El Cap. How does that have a connection to Washington, DC? Keep reading to find out. . .

El Cap; Yosemite National Park

Michael Pelkey and Brian Schubert; 1966

Over the edge...

The idea of a parachute—using a device to slow the fall of an object to earth, has been around for hundreds of years. Leonardo Da Vinci composed early sketches of a parachute, and early demonstrations of a parachute occurred as far back as 1617. These were very rare, and the parachute didn’t enter mainstream though until the late 1700’s. A few brave (very brave) souls demonstrated the parachute, mainly from hot air balloons throughout the 1800’s, but the design and execution was less than perfect.

Fausto Veranzio’s early design for a parachutes;1595

Case in point: In 1912, Franz Reichelt, a tailor, jumped from the Eiffel Tower to testing his invention, the coat parachute. Unfortunately, his coat parachute didn’t work, and he died in the attempt. (It was his first ever attempt with the parachute and he had told the authorities in advance he would test it first with a dummy. He didn't, but simply tried it himself first! Maybe he was the dummy?)

Franz Reichelt in his "Overcoat Parachute"; 1912

Enter Stefan Banic (23 Nov 1870-2 Jan 1941). Banic was a Slovakian immigrant to the US and who worked as a coal miner, stone mason and as an employee of the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company. In 1912, Banic witnessed a tragic accident (he never provided additional details) that impressed (terrified?) him so much that he started to think about the construction of a “modern” parachute. By 1913, Banic had constructed a prototype of a parachute in 1913 and submitted it to the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, DC. At the time, patent law required either a model (for some larger items, a full scale example wasn’t practical) or a demonstration. Patent officials and military representatives were present to watch Banic leap from a tall building and float safely to the ground! Banič received a U.S. Patent (No. 1,108,484) for his invention, but donated it to the US Army Air Corps and received little fame and no fortune his creation. After World War I Banič returned to Slovakia and disappeared from the realms of history.

Stefan Banic; c. 1913

(A side note to clarify a historical aberration. Some stories claim Banic jumped from a 41-floor building to demonstrate his parachute. If you are even a casual spectator of DC, you’ll recognize that the highest structure in DC is the Washington Monument (at 555’). As a matter of fact, DC has a law, the “Height of Buildings Act” which legally restricts the size of DC buildings—no building will ever be taller than the Washington Monument. Banic couldn’t have jumped from a 41-story building, because there never have been and never will be a 41-story building in DC! Most of the larger buildings are in the 10-14 story range, which makes one wonder if some ancient scribe accidently turned “14” into “41”?).

It’s not my desire or intention to give a detailed account of how BASE jumping evolved into what many call “the original extreme sport”; if you desire that info, you could find it here:

Which takes us back to Yosemite. . .The technology that Pelkey and Schubert used to BASE jump from El Cap is a direct descendent of what happened in Washington, DC 96 years ago. The next time you want to go for a BASE jump, think of Stefan Banic.

One final bit of housekeeping: BASE jumping in Yosemite was prohibited in 1980, which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, it just means you can get arrested, spend a night in jail, and get fined $2,000 if you are caught. As a matter of fact, shortly after we moved to the Yosemite area in 1999, a female BASE jumper from the San Francisco Bay area, Jan Davis, planned on making a “protest jump” to highlight what she perceived as unfair treatment BASE jumpers were receiving from the National Park Service. She contacted the NPS, along with many members of the media, and wore a striped “jail outfit” to make her point. In what can only be described as tragic irony, her chute didn’t open and she died in the attempt. The picture below was taking by her husband (!) as she hurled herself into eternity. . .

You can read an blurb in Outside magazine about the event here:

If you'd like to read about the first jump from El Cap, click here:

31 Days of History: 24 July

In 1897, 112 years ago today, the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart was born in Atchinson, Kansas.

Amelia Earhart

After a troubled childhood in various locations, Amelia found herself working as a nurse in Toronto in 1918. Despite a good job, she was discontent and restless, and passed the time reading poetry, learning to play the banjo and studying mechanics. At some point during this time, she got an idea that she would learn how to fly.

It would be late December 1920 before she took her first plane ride. It quickly convinced her that flying was her passion. She was a quick learner, and by 1923, Earhart became only the 16th woman to be issued a pilot's license. Although she was a competent pilot, flying was still her passion, but not her livelihood, and throughout the next few years, Earhart worked a variety of jobs (a teacher, a social worker, a photographer) and bounced around the country. As years passed, her reputation grew, as female pilots were few and far between in the 1920’s.

Earhart, shortly after her first plane ride

After Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, the climate was right for a female to duplicate the feat. Earhart was contacted and agreed to the flight as part of a larger project, one that would include a book, a publicity tour, and time on the lecture/speaking circuit. After the successful flight, Earhart returned to the United States where she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York followed by a reception with President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

Earhart is welcomed to England; 1928

Glamour shots; 1928

Earhart and President Hoover; 1932

Fame followed. The publicity tour gave way to celebrity endorsements and a long speaking tour. Throughout this time, Earhart spent a great deal of time with her publicist, George P. Putnam. After proposing to her 5 times, she accepted the sixth proposal and they were married in 1931.

The happy couple

Amelia Earhart and George Putnam

Throughout the 1930’s, Earhart undertook a variety of high-profile flights, gaining more recognitions and competing in long-distance races. In July 1936, she started planning a round-the-world flight. While it wouldn’t be the first flight around the globe, it would be the longest. As 29,000 miles, it followed a route roughly around the Equator. She chose Fred Noonen, an experienced Pan Am pilot, as her copilot.

Earhart and Noonen; 1937

Earhart andher beloved Vega

On 1 June 1937, they departed Miami and after numerous stops in South America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, they arrived in New Guinea on 29 June. 22,000 miles of the journey had been completed and the remaining 7,000 miles would all be over the Pacific Ocean. The plan was to refuel on Howland Island, a tiny island slightly longer than a mile and less than ¼ of a mile wide. The US Coast Guard Cutter Itasca was standing by to assist if needed. As they approached the location of the island, Earhart and Noonen had trouble finding the tiny airstrip. After a series of confusing and garbled radio transmissions with the Itasca, Earhart’s plane was never heard from again.

The Coast Guard was assisted by the US Navy, and the search continued for 17 days to no avail. Despite a search of unprecedented proportions (at a cost of $4 million), not a shred of physical evidence was ever found. Most believe they ran out of fuel and had to crash land in the open sea, and the plane and all evidence sank shortly thereafter, although people still speculate on what really happened to her, and whether she is living on some tropical island with Elvis and JFK.


You can find various artifacts associated with Earhart at the National Air and Space Museum, located on the National Mall in downtown DC.

Earhart's Lockheed Vega on display at the National Air and Space Museum