Little Bits of History

January 26

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2017

1891: Francesco Castiglia is born in Cassano allo Ionio, Italy. In 1895, he, his mother and his brother, Edward, boarded a ship to come to America and join the senior Castiglia who had opened a small neighborhood grocery store in East Harlem a few years before. By the time Francesco was 13, his older brother had introduced him to gang life and he began using the name Frankie. He was first jailed for assault and robbery in 1908 and then again in 1912 and 1917. He married Lauretta Giegerman, a friend’s sister and a Jew. He served ten months in jail for possession of a concealed weapon. Upon his release, he decided that using his brains instead of violence was the way to make in the criminal world.

Castiglia was working with the Morello gang when he met Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and the two became friends and partners. Many of the older Luciano family did not approve since Castiglia was not Sicilian. But the times were changing and the older mafiosi were forced to deal not only with non-Sicilian Italians, but the Irish and the Jews also joined into a lucrative post-Prohibition economy. The younger men were able to work with a more diverse group of criminals and spread their influence into new avenues. It was around this time Frank changed his name to Costello, perhaps to sound a bit more Irish to the rumrunners from Hell’s Kitchen known as “The Combine”. Eventually, after beating a bribery charge, Costello was able to take over the running of The Combine.

The Castellammarese War was waged between Joe Masseria and the other four major New York crime families. Costello and Luciano were allied with Masseria against the Maranzano faction. The war waged for two years, wreaked havoc with the crime business and cut into profits. The war needed to end and the criminals needed to get back to the business of crime before they were wiped away from the streets of New York. Leaders of both factions were murdered and Luciano became the new crime boss with Costello as consigliere. He became one of the biggest earners in the family and carved out his own niche in slot machines and the numbers. After Luciano was arrested in 1936, he tried to run his gang from prison but ended up handing the reins to Genovese but he was indicted in 1937. This left Costello in charge.

Genovese had been a proponent of the drug trade, but Costello was not, so the family stayed out of the drug trade. Costello was a popular Boss and opened many legitimate businesses to bolster his criminal activity. Genovese returned to New York and tried to wrest power away from Costello unsuccessfully. The feud went so far as an assassination attempt on Costello’s life which was also unsuccessful. In 1957, Costello’s rule was over and he was demoted but was permitted to keep much of his fortune. He was known as “The Prime Minister of the Underworld” during his retirement but the US Supreme Court finally stripped him of his citizenship and began deportation proceedings. He never left the country and died after suffering a heart attack in his Manhattan home. He was 82.

I’m sorry, counselor, I’d rather blow the goddamn case. (While on trial and his lawyer asked him to stop wearing $350 suits, which were hurting his case with the jury, and to switch to clothes from the plain pipe rack.) – Frank Costello

The only one that can do what I do is me. Lot of people had to die for me to be me. You wanna be me? – Frank Costello

When you decide to be something, you can be it. That’s what they don’t tell you in the church. When I was your age, they would say we can become cops or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference? – Frank Costello

One of us had to die. With me, it tends to be the other guy. – Frank Costello

Live, at the Apollo

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2015
Apollo Theater

Apollo Theater

January 26, 1934: The Apollo Theater opens. A theater at 253 West 125th Street was built in 1913-14 and originally called Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater. It was of a neo-classical design by George Keister and was a Whites Only venue. Hurtig and Seamon were famous burlesque producers and obtained a 30-lease on the building which seated over 1,500 people. In 1928, Billy Minsky took over running the theater. By the early 1930s the theater was in disrepair and closed. In 1933 it was purchased by Sidney Cohen who also owned other theaters in the area. Lavish renovations were made and on this date, the new theater opened with the show “Jazz a la Carte” headlined by Benny Carter and his Orchestra, Ralph Cooper, and Aida Ward. The theater now catered to the African-American citizens of Harlem, New York City, and the world.

On Valentine’s Day of 1934, the first major star came to the Apollo in the form of jazz singer and Broadway star, Adelaide Hall. She appeared in Chocolate Soldiers for a limited run. Sam Wooding’s Orchestra was featured and the engagement was highly praised in the press which helped seal the Apollo’s reputation as a stellar venue. The theater was managed by Morris Sussman and had great competition from other theaters such as the Lafayette which also provided big name entertainment (Louis Armstrong, Bojangles, and Bessie Smith). In the beginning, the shows presented at the Apollo were similar to a vaudeville show complete with a chorus line of pretty girls. That changed as time went on.

The Lafayette was the first to offer amateur night but the Apollo soon took up the idea as well. Winners of the Amateur Night at the Apollo included Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey. Ella was only 17 when she first performed there and when her chance came, she almost chose to dance instead of sing, but was intimidated by the Edwards Sisters. She performed two numbers and won the first prize of $25. Jimi Hendrix won first place in an amateur musician contest in 1964. Other big names whose careers started at the Apollo are legion and include Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and many more.

The 1960s was the Apollo’s most successful decade but as the neighborhood declined, so did the venue. As drugs became more prevalent, robberies and thefts in the area made it unsafe for people to go to the theater. The theater closed in 1976 after an 8-year-old boy was shot to death. Two specials were aired on TV in order to help raise funds to revive the theater. The venue changed hands several times in the ensuing decades.  Once again, renovations were undertaken and today, the Apollo Theater draws about 1.3 million visitors each year. It is on the US National Register of Historic Places and is a New York City Landmark.

The Apollo probably exerted a greater influence upon popular culture than any other entertainment venue in the world. For blacks it was the most important cultural institution–not just the greatest black theatre, but a special place to come of age emotionally, professionally, socially, and politically. – Ted Fox

I told them the rules: “If you like the performer, cheer. You know how to cheer, don’t you?” And the audience let out a roar that rattled windows all over Harlem. – Ralph Cooper

I was at the Apollo Theater all the time, skipping school, and I worked in a barbershop. That’s how I started with doo-wop. Now I’ve come full circle. I did all kinds of music. I used to work on Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. – George Clinton

Forget what you heard—there’s no place like Harlem. Uptown, baby, is where the magic happens and deferred dreams materialize. – Kenya N Byrd

Also on this day: The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
Phantom – In 1988, The Phantom of the Opera opened in New York City.
Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey? – In 1784, Benjamin Franklin debates using the eagle as engraved on the national seal.
Brilliant – In 1905, the Cullinan Diamond was found.
Missing Children – In 1966, three Beaumont children went missing, never to be seen again.

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Missing Children

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2014
The three Beaumont

The three Beaumont, Arnna, Grant, and Jane

January 26, 1966: The three Beaumont children go missing. Jane Nartare was 9, Arnna Kathleen was 7, and Grant Ellis was 4 when the children went to Gleneig Beach near Adelaide, South Australia. It was Australia Day and the children were permitted to go and play as they had done many times before. The Beaumont family lived in a suburb of Adelaide and often played at the popular beach-side resort. The day was hot and the children rode the bus, a five minute ride, from their home. Jane was in charge of her siblings, just as many times before and just as many older children were in charge of their younger brothers and sisters. They left home at 10 AM and were expected home by noon.

The children did not return home and by 3 PM, Mrs. Beaumont was worried. Police found many people who had seen the children at the beach. Since they went there often, they were well known. They were seen in the company of a tall blond man in his mid-30s and appeared to be playing with him and enjoying their day. Jane went to a local shop to buy food and used a £1 note for the purchase. Her mother had only given her some coins for the bus fare and a smaller amount of food than what she purchased. The shopkeeper knew the children and testified that the children usually ordered less food when there.

The last the children were seen was around 3 PM when they were seen walking alone along Jetty Road and heading away from the beach. The postman saw the kids and stopped to talk to them since he knew them well. He said they seemed cheerful. Several months later a witness reported seeing a man with two boys and girl entering what she thought was an abandoned house. Later, the man chased the boy who was walking alone and forcibly took him back to the house. The next morning the house was again deserted. She had no explanation about her delay in reporting this. The disappearance of the children caused parents around the nation to think about adult supervision at all times for their offspring. Child care would need to be more careful and was changed according throughout Australia.

The case of the missing children was never solved even though it was one of the largest manhunts on the island. Neither their children or any of their possessions were ever recovered. Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont were never criticized in their care of the children. Kids were simply allowed more freedom at the time. There were several other missing children and teens in the following years. Bevan von Einem was charged with the murder of one of them and is a major suspect in this case as well. However, he was only 21 in 1966. Arthur Brown, James O’Neill, and Derek Percy are also suspected in the case but to this day, it remains unsolved.

As long as we have unsolved problems, unfulfilled desires, and a mustard seed of faith, we have all we need for a vibrant prayer life. – John Ortberg

New York is an exciting town where something is happening all the time, most unsolved.    – Johnny Carson

Anyway, it doesn’t matter how much, how often, or how closely you keep an eye on things because you can’t control it. Sometimes things and people just go. Just like that. – Cecelia Ahern

I’m aware of what’s missing from my life. – Ang Lee

Also on this day: The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
Phantom – In 1988, The Phantom of the Opera opened in New York City.
Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey? – In 1784, Benjamin Franklin debates using the eagle as engraved on the national seal.
Brilliant – In 1905, the Cullinan Diamond was found.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2013
Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber

January 26, 1988: The Majestic Theatre on Broadway in New York City opens a new musical. The show first opened at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London on October 9, 1986. The musical is based on a book by the French author Gaston Leroux who gave us Le Fantôme de l’Opéra in 1911. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the music while Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe contributed the lyrics. The play became the longest running Broadway musical on January 26, 2006 with its 7,486th performance. It is the second longest West End musical behind Les Miserables and passed the 9,000-performance mark on May 31, 2008.

The Phantom of the Opera has won both the Oliver Award and a Tony Award. The orchestral needs for the musical are greater than for most modern productions. The 27-piece orchestra can be replaced with pre-recorded music when the pit is too small to hold the musicians. There are also off-stage voiceovers that are pre-recorded as are Christine’s high notes at the end of the title song. The cast of 12 players requires a staff of 13. Due to the demands on the voice of the soprano in the role of Christine Daaé, two actresses are needed with the secondary actress taking the stage twice a week.

The tale takes place in Paris in 1881. The owner of the theatre sells it and while the troupe is performing for the new owners, they hear of the Opera Ghost. When their star soprano quits in a huff, Christine is put into the starring role. While she has a beautiful voice, she is untrained. She is mysteriously coached and performs brilliantly on opening night. In the audience is Raoul, Vicomte de Chagne, the new patron of the Opera House and the old sweetheart of Christine.

Christine is torn between the Phantom of the Opera and Raoul. She becomes engaged to the young man angering her adoring mentor. The two men’s animosity escalates. It is a story of unconditional love or perhaps a tale of desperate need. Andrew Lloyd Webber has given the world several spectacular musicals: Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, and Evita. He is set to premiere his sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies in 2010 with Jack O’Brien directing.

“Let me be your shelter, let me be your light.
You’re safe: No-one will find you, your fears are far behind you . . .” – Raoul

“Father once spoke of an angel . . . I used to dream he’d appear . . .
Now as I sing, I can sense him . . . And I know he’s here.” – Christine

“Flattering child, you shall know me, see why in shadow I hide!
Look at your face in the mirror – I am there inside!” – Phantom

“Christine: In sleep he sang to me / In dreams he came
That voice which calls to me / And speaks my name
And do I dream again? / For now I find
The phantom of the opera is there, / Inside my mind.
Phantom: Sing once again with me / Our strange duet
My power over you / Grows stronger yet
And though you turn from me / to glance behind
The phantom of the opera is there / Inside your mind” – all from The Phantom of the Opera

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: Love Never Dies opened at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End (London) on March 9, 2010. The play was substantially written in November 2010 but still got poor reviews in England. After more substantial rewrites, the play opened in Australia to a better reception. It was to have opened on Broadway at the same time as the West End opening, but it was delayed indefinitely. Love Never Dies takes place ten years after the close of The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom moved to the US and is in charge of Phantasma, a Coney Island amusement park. He still pines for Christine and invites her to come to the US to perform. She does not realize who issued the invitation and so she, her husband Raoul, and their son, Gustave accept the invitation.

Also on this day: The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey? – In 178,: Benjamin Franklin debates using the eagle as engraved on the national seal.
Brilliant – In 1905, the Cullinan Diamond was found.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2012

Some of the cuts of the Cullinan Diamond

January 26, 1905: The Cullinan Diamond is found. The largest rough gem quality diamond was found at the Premier Diamond Mining Company in Cullinan – today called Gauteng – South Africa. The mine was owned by Sir Thomas Cullinan and Frederick Wells, the surface manager, found the diamond while on a routine inspection. The uncut gem weighed in at 3,106.75 carats (1.3698 pounds or 621.35 grams). Sir William Crookes analyzed the uncut gem noting its clarity but also stating there was a black spot in the center, probably due to internal strain.

The diamond was sent to England. Security was an issue. The diamond was to be sent by steamer ship from Africa to London, surrounded by Detectives. This was a ruse and the diamond was actually sent in a plain box via parcel post – registered mail. There is no record of any attempt made against the diversionary fake sent by ship. The gem was purchased by the Transvaal government, an area in northern South Africa, and presented to King Edward VII for his birthday, November 8.

The stone was cut by Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam. The company was founded in 1854 and is still in operation (although nearly destroyed by Nazi atrocities) and is run under the name of Royal Asscher Diamond Company. Abraham and Joseph Asscher developed a signature method for cutting diamonds in 1902. Called the Asscher cut, the gem is shaped in a square emerald cut with cropped corners. Joseph, grandson of the founder, tried to cut the remarkable diamond in February 1908. The cleaving blade broke. He tried again one week later and was successful. Rumor says he fainted after the first cut – erroneously.

The Cullinan diamond was cut into nine major stones, 96 smaller brilliants, and 9.5 carats of unpolished pieces. The largest gem, Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, was the largest polished diamond in the world until 1985. It weighs 530.2 carats (3.74 ounces or 106.04 grams) and was surpassed by the Golden Jubilee Diamond weighing in at 545.67 carats (3.84 ounces or 109.13 grams). The Jubilee also came from the Premier Mine. Cullinan II or the Lesser Star of Africa is the fourth largest diamond weighing 317.4 carats (2.23 ounces or 63.48 grams).

A diamond with a flaw is worth more than a pebble without imperfections. – Chinese Proverb

Let us not be too particular; it is better to have old secondhand diamonds than none at all. – Mark Twain

I have always felt a gift diamond shines so much better than one you buy for yourself. – Mae West

I prefer liberty to chains of diamonds. – Mary Worley Montagu

Also on this day:

The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
Phantom – In 1988, The Phantom of the Opera opened in New York City.
Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey? – In 178,: Benjamin Franklin debates using the eagle as engraved on the national seal.

Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2011

Great Seal of the United States

January 26, 1784: Benjamin Franklin sends a letter to his daughter discussing the eagle as engraved on the national seal. Many countries have an animal that represents them. England has the lion, Canada has the beaver while Australia has the kangaroo. The newly formed US now had the eagle. On July 4, 1776 three men were given the task of designing a seal for the new nation – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, none of which wanted an eagle. Congress did not accept the seal as delivered by the committee which showed Lady Liberty holding a shield that represented the states.

William Barton, a Philadelphia artist, was called in to redesign the seal. His first attempt had a golden eagle in the design. The new nation, still fighting for independence from European rule, did not accept that particular bird since it was also found in Europe. Instead, the American bald eagle was used.

Franklin’s letter to his daughter laments the quality of the drawing of the eagle, saying that it looked like a dindon, or turkey. He then went on to compare the two birds. It was Franklin’s contention that the bald eagle was both lazy and a “rank coward.” It seems he had seen an eagle in flight followed by smaller birds and felt that the larger bird of prey was in retreat rather than just ignoring the insignificant birds. He also felt that wild turkeys were a staple of life, used during feasting times along with venison, corn, and pumpkin.

There are other national symbols that are familiar around the world. The Statue of Liberty is globally recognized as American, a present from the French honoring the nation’s commitment to liberty. Mount Rushmore, another large monument is particularly American with the faces of four presidents carved into the mountain. Many nations have a national flower, and the US claims the rose. National trees are popular as well, with the US having selected the oak. Other symbols that represent the US are the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly.” – Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” – Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter

“We have built no national temples but the Capitol; we consult no common oracle but the Constitution” – Rufus Choate

“People will accept your idea much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.” – David H. Comins

Also on this day:
The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
The Phantom of the Opera – In 1988, The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in NYC.


The Hills Are Alive

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2010

Maria and Georg von Trapp

January 26, 1905: Maria Augusta Kutschera von Trapp is born. Maria was born on a train heading toward a hospital in Vienna. By her seventh birthday, she was an orphan. She graduated from a Teachers College by age 18. She started out her adult life studying to be a nun in a convent in Salzburg, Austria. She was asked to nurse naval commander Georg Ritter von Trapp, a widower with seven children, back to health as well as to teach his children. The two fell in love and were married in 1927 when she was 22 and he was 47.

The commander lost his fortune in the Great Depression so the family turned their love of music into their career. Georg was a wealthy man with money safely in London banks. But Austria was under economic pressure due to hostilities with Germany. The money was moved to help a friend and placed in Lammer’s bank. The bank immediately failed and the family became poverty stricken overnight. They performed at a festival in 1935 and became a popular touring act.

After the Nazi annexation of Austria, the family, now with all nine children, managed to continue to tour. They continued to entertain in Scandinavia and eventually made their way to America residing in Stowe, Vermont where they began a music camp. The final von Trapp child was born in 1939 while they were temporarily living in Merion, Pennsylvania. Today, five of the children are still alive.

Maria’s friend kept encouraging – maybe even hounding – von Trapp, to write her story. Maria kept demurring until she finally scribbled a few pages to prove that she had no talent for writing. However, it only proved that she could write and her tale became The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, or as we know it from the movies, The Sound of Music.

“When a singer truly feels and experiences what the music is all about, the words will automatically ring true.” – Monserrat Caballé

“Being on tour is like being in limbo. It’s like going from nowhere to nowhere.” – Bob Dylan

“If a thing isn’t worth saying, you sing it.” – Pierre Beaumarchais

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” – Aldous Huxley

Also on this day, in 1988 The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in NYC.

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