Total Pageviews

Sunday 31 January 2021

James Thurber's Typewriters

"The Attic Where Grandfather Used to Sleep, Now Home to Our Writer-in-Residence"
"He's giving Dorothy Thompson a piece of his mind"
"American Male Tied Up in Typewriter Ribbon"
“Last night I dreamed of a small consolation enjoyed only by the blind: Nobody knows the trouble I've not seen!” - James Thurber.
On one of his last visits to France, in early June 1955, 
James Thurber (1894-1961) dictated text to his secretary Pat Brayne (right), who typed it on a portable typewriter. By that time, Thurber was almost completely blind - he had been losing his eyesight for 18 years. When he was six, his older brother, William, accidentally shot an arrow into Thurber’s left eye. His right eye began to swell because of sympathetic opthalmia, a condition in which an undamaged eye can react to an injured one because of the body’s immune response. A specialist eventually removed Thurber’s injured eye, but his right eye was permanently weakened. 

Thurber had been able to type himself, on an Underwood 5 standard typewriter, when from 1913-17 he and his family rented a 
three-story Victorian-style house house on 77 Jefferson Avenue in Columbus, Ohio, which since 1984 has been known as Thurber House. There is an Underwood 5 on display there now, on a desk in what was once his bedroom, but whether it is Thurber's original Underwood 5 is uncertain. New York Times columnist Russell Baker visited the house in April 1989 and wrote:

Thurber was at the time an undergraduate at Ohio State University, where he was editor of the student magazine, the Sun Dial. He didn't graduate because his poor eyesight prevented him from taking a mandatory Reserve Officers' Training Corps course. But from 1918-20 he was able to take a position as a coding clerk with the United States Department of State, first in Washington DC and then at the American Embassy in Paris. On returning to Columbus, he began his career as a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch from 1921-24. Thurber returned to Paris during this period, when he also wrote for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers.

Thurber was stricken with a blood clot on the brain in New York City on October 4, 1961, and underwent emergency surgery, drifting in and out of consciousness. The operation was initially successful, but Thurber died a few weeks later, on November 2, aged 66, due to complications from pneumonia. Doctors said his brain was senescent from several small strokes and hardening of the arteries. 

Below, the Underwood 5 purported to be Thurber's:

It has sometimes been claimed that Thurber was related to the inventor Charles Thurber, but this was not the case. Charles Thurber patented the “Patent Printer” in 1843, the “Mechanical Chirographer” in 1845, the “Calligraph” (also spelled "Caligraph") in 1857 and again in 1860. 

“With 60 staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and definite hardening of the paragraphs.”

Thursday 28 January 2021

Wrong-Way O'Keeffe and Lowering the Boom on Australian Basketball

Basketball fans crowd around to see what an
American sports writer says in his game report.

One night in the middle of my basketball writing life, I was in the Townsville Suns team bus hurtling along the A49 for Newcastle after a lightning tournament in the coastal town of Terrigal. First stop was a bottle shop. While I tried to type a story in the back of the bus, the other occupants hoed into the cartons of beer. After about half an hour, the club’s CEO, Dennis O’Keeffe, looked out a window and said, “Shouldn’t the ocean be on our right side?”

We were usually a little smarter than that. Though the Suns were still new to the National Basketball League back then, from an early point the club had realised the league was heading in entirely the wrong direction. Not that it did them much good.

American basketball fans would be forgiven for thinking that, with at least seven Australians playing in the NBA, the men's game in this country is in a healthy state. They'd be wrong. Women's basketball and male basketball at the development levels might be in robust good shape, but the men’s elite competition, the NBL, is struggling for exposure and relevance. That wasn’t always so. The NBL was the “boom” professional sports competition in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. Then just about everything went bust.

I was reminded of the glory days when on Australia Day this week Cal Bruton was honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to basketball. The glory days are a distant memory. The ongoing problems faced by the NBL are entirely of its own making, and have little to do with the finest young Australian players heading overseas to hone their skills in the US college system and the NBA. Indeed, by far the greatest amount of publicity now afforded basketball in Australia concerns the game-to-game performances of our NBA players. Australian basketball followers have at least something to be thankful about. For professional sports in this country, plentiful exposure on free-to-air TV is the be-all and end-all of their existence; Australians have been spoilt for so long with free access to televised sport that they remain loath to fork out to watch those sports which, because of our anti-siphoning regulations, are mainly confined to pay TV. The NBL is buried away on SBS On Demand and SBS Viceland (which has a viewing share of 1 per cent!).

In 1979 Australia was ripe for a professional basketball league. Its national team, the Boomers, had advanced in Olympic Games and World Cup events and in high scorer Eddie Palubinskas, Australia had produced a player worthy of NBA consideration (he was a 1974 NBA draftee but didn't play in the NBA). State leagues flourished and had started to make the game attractive, even to the uninitiated. It wasn't until 1988 that the NBA was televised free-to-air on the national broadcast network, the ABC, and Australian basketball fans loved this more exciting, entertaining spectacle. But the NBL wasn't the NBA, not least because zone defences were allowed here, and that made our basketball a subtly if significantly different game.

In 1991 Luc Longley became the first Aussie to play in the NBA. That so many other young Australian basketballers have since made it to the highest level in the game is in large part a lasting legacy of the work done by those evangelist (purely in the basketball sense) Americans who came to Australia for the start of the original NBL. Most were players (NBL clubs were allowed two "imports" each) but many were coaches. One thing they had in common was their "missionary zeal" - they had an inexhaustible capacity to promote and publicise basketball, and to capitalise on the Australian public's appetite for knowledge about what was a very new and different professional sporting competition in this country. Until 1979, the only team sport competitions approaching full professionalism were cricket and two of the football codes. A five-a-side game played indoors with a large round ball and an enormous amount of specifically - some might say artificially - generated hoopla took some getting used to.

An excellent summary of the “American conversion” is contained in a paper published by former Australian National University historian Scott Bennett in the Australian Society for Sports Historians’ Sporting Traditions in November 1986. Called “The Cannons and Canberra”, it is available online in the LA84 Foundation’s digital library.

One of the first imported "stars" mentioned by Bennett is Bruton, from Jamaica, Queen's, New York City. During the 20 years I covered the NBL (for spurious reasons, my accreditation was cancelled in 1999), and occasionally since that time, Cal and I have had many conversations about "what went wrong" for the Australian men's “elite” competition. The NBL reached the point in 2008 when its own chief executive, Chuck Harmison, described it as a "train wreck". It was in a “semi-induced coma” and on life support, he said. "While it’s not dead," added Harmison, "it’s the victim of a pretty horrendous train crash." Harmison, who came here from Ohio State University, said he felt the sport wasn’t ready for the explosion in popularity it experienced in the 80s and 90s and "took its eye off the ball".

A telling reason it wasn't ready (and distracted by non-consequentials) was a failure reflected both on-court and in the NBL's head office. In hindsight, perhaps the NBL should have considered importing referees as well as US players and coaches when it started out. Australian referees were not equal to the challenge which emerged with an NBL involving 18 savvy, fast-moving, fast-talking Americans. But NBL officials stamped on any criticism of the refereeing standards, courtside or in the Press. They used a fine system to prevent coaches from making adverse remarks about referees - always a major mistake, in that it denies the paying public their right to know what coaches are thinking. Australian fans, passionate but often bemused and sometimes angry about on-court decisions, were thirsty for the knowledge that coaches with American experience could impart, but for fear of being fined could not. Spectators were entitled to the benefit of their wisdom. When Chris Anstey returned from playing in the NBA and said referees were ruining the game in Australia, he was heavily fined. Rather than stifle comment, the NBL needed to face the facts that people with expertise were pointing out. Failure to do so lowered the boom on the NBL.

Monday 25 January 2021

Jimmie Rodgers' Underwood 5 Typewriter

There were, of course, two great singers called Jimmie Rodgers: one a pop singer who died last Monday, aged 87, from kidney disease aggravated by Covid-19, in Palm Desert, California; the other a country singer who died aged just 35, from a pulmonary hemorrhage brought on by tuberculosis, in the Taft Hotel in New York City the year the pop singer was born, 1933. Some US media outlets have already mistaken one for the other, suggesting this Underwood 5 standard typewriter belonged to the pop singer. It was in fact one of the exhibits honouring the first Jimmie Rodgers, in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.

The pop singer was James Frederick Rodgers, born in Camas, Washington, on September 18, 1933. Some of his more memorable hits were Honeycomb, Kisses Sweeter Than Wine and Bimbombey.

The country singer was James Charles Rodgers, born in Meridian, Mississippi, on September 8, 1897. He is widely regarded as “the Father of Country Music”. This Jimmie died on May 26, 1933. At that time he accounted for fully 10 per cent of RCA Victor's sales in a drastically depressed record market.

Sunday 24 January 2021

Papacy versus the Finaly Family: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Two Little Jewish Boys

Antoinette Brun watches as her defence lawyer takes down her statement on an Olympia Plana portable typewriter in 1953.
 Brun was jailed for denying the Finaly family their two nephews.

The full extent of Pope Pius XII’s active role in the Roman Catholic Church’s shameful abduction of two Jewish boys was exposed in March last year when the Vatican opened its sealed archives from Pius XII’s 1939-58 pontificate. The children were Robert (Ruben) Michael Finaly, born at La Tronche, Grenoble, on April 14, 1941, and his brother 
Gérald (Guedalya) Pierre Finaly, also born at La Tronche, on July 3, 1942. The Nazis murdered their parents in the Auschwitz extermination camp on March 7, 1944, and until 1953 the lives of Robert and Gérald came to be controlled by a La Tronche municipal crèche director called Marie Antoinette Brun. Brun called herself the boys’ mother, though she was 52 at the time the Finaly brothers, then aged three and two, were placed in her care. In July 1948 Brun had the two orphans baptised Catholics in the full knowledge that they had aunts living in New Zealand and Israel who wanted the brothers returned to their immediate family. This baptism was to allow the church to consider itself above the laws of France in the notorious “l’affaire Finaly”. Brun went to extraordinary lengths to keep the Finaly brothers from their kin, including repeatedly ignoring court orders, constantly hiding the children, frequently changing their names (including using the surname Brun) and orchestrating the illegal transportation of the boys across the French border into Spain, over the Pyrenees to San Sebastian in the Basque region at night, through freezing winter snow. The Catholic clergy had at this point put the lives of the Finaly children in the hands of two Basque smugglers, François Etchecaharetta and Joseph Susperreguy,

Gérald, left, and Robert Finaly in the gardens of André Weil's property
La Moussonnière in Saint-Léonard near Senlis after
they had been returned to France from Spain on June 27, 1953.

Robert and Gérald were the sons of Dr Fritz Finaly, born on March 26, 1906 in Klosterneuburg, Austria, and his wife Anni, née Schwarz, born on February 18, 1915, in Gmünd in Kärnten. Dr Finaly was the head of a clinic in Vienna, but after Hitler annexed Austria on March 12, 1938, the couple made plans to move to Czechoslovakia before that country too was overrun by the Nazis. They then made efforts to emigrate to Bolivia but couldn't get travel documents. Instead, in 1939, they took refuge in France, settling at 8 chemin de Pont Prouiller in La Tronche. However, Dr Finaly was unable to practice because of the anti-Semitic laws of Marshal Philippe Pétain’s collaborationist Vichy government following the German invasion of France in 1940. The last Dr Finaly’s sisters in Auckland, New Zealand, had heard from him was a letter dated September 7, 1942, three months after Gérald’s birth, which Dr Finaly had sent through a friend in the US. On February 14, 1944, Dr Finaly and Anna were arrested by the Gestapo, he in the streets of Grenoble while returning from visiting of a sick French underground operative, she at their apartment. Four days earlier the Finalys had hidden their two sons in the Saint-Vincent de Paul nursery in Meylan, six miles from Grenoble, but the nursery owner, Anne-Marie Fabin, was also forced to flee. The Finalys then asked a friend, Marie Paupaert, to take care of the boys. Paupaert approached the nuns of Notre Dame de Sion in Grenoble to hide the brothers in their convent. Since this institution was an educational one, the Ladies of Zion were afraid that the presence of two children under school age would the arouse the suspicions of the SS. So they entrusted the little boys to Brun.

Any apologies?: Pope Pius XII pictured working at his Olivetti Studio 42 semi-portable typewriter as he replies to letters in The Vatican, January 31, 1955.

The “l’affaire Finaly” caused enormous tension in France. One particularly close observer, Nicolas Baudy, editor-in-chief of the journal Évidences, wrote, “two children [have] became the stakes in a strange struggle that has pitted a sadly tried Jewish family against a woman some regard as a saint and others as a lunatic; Princes of the Church against the Grand Rabbi of France; Jesuit fathers, nuns, and members of the lower clergy against politicians; and French Catholicism in general against that section of the nation which invokes the Rights of Man and the laws of the Republic … the affair is one of a conflict between the passion of faith and the rights of the family and the heart … Not since the Dreyfus case has an issue affecting Jews stirred France as has the ‘l’affaire Finaly’. Public opinion in France, and elsewhere too, has divided into pro and contra, and much along the same lines as in the Dreyfus days. In the opinion of responsible people, however, too large a part of the feeling on one side derives from a plain ignorance of the facts, which is reflected in even the most enlightened organs of Catholic opinion both in Europe and the United States.”

Gérald, left, and Robert Finaly at La Moussonnière in Saint-Léonard in June 1953.

Baudy’s article, “The Affair of the Finaly Children: France Debates a Drama of Faith and the Family”, appeared in the June 1953 issue of Évidences, six weeks before the boys were found in Spain and returned to their Israeli aunt. Typical of the “plain ignorance of the facts” was an item which was to appear in The Catholic Advance in Wichita, Kansas, on July 3, 1953. It said, “Atrocious is the word to describe some press reports of the Finaly case. It was said that Gérald and Robert were ‘abducted’. They were not. They went of their own free will to Spain.” The boys were 10 and 11 years old, for goodness sake, and they had to make a five-hour forced march across the Pyrenees in the dead of night in deep snow! “Free will”? In the hands of Bayonne criminals? The author of this ridiculous nonsense, noted Catholic journalist Paul H. Hallett, went on to claim, “The crassest charge of all was that the brothers were baptised after their relatives applied for return …” This was far from “crass”, it was in fact absolutely true. Hallett added there was an implication that the baptism was forced. “The Finalys were baptised with their clearly given consent …” Was Hallett being serious, or had he lost his mind in the church’s cause? The boys were six and seven years old! What would a six-year-old know about giving “consent to be baptised”? More accurately, Baron Guy de Rothschild, leader of the French Jewish community, in July 1953 described Brun’s baptism as a “forced conversion” and “one of the worst abuses of confidence vis-à-vis their unfortunate parents”.  Maurice L. Perlzweig of the World Jewish Congress called it an “indefensible act of ritualistic kidnapping”.

The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1862

Even British newspapers were appalled. The Manchester Guardian found “l’affaire Finaly” “closely followed the pattern of the “Mortara Case”. This was a mid-19th Century Italian cause célèbre which concerned the Papal States' seizure of a six-year-old boy named Edgardo Mortara from his Jewish family in Bologna, based on the testimony of a former servant that she had administered an emergency baptism to the boy when he fell ill as an infant. Mortara grew up as a Catholic under the protection of Pope Pius IX, who refused his parents' desperate pleas for his return, and eventually he became a priest. The domestic and international outrage against the pontifical state's actions may have contributed to its downfall amid the unification of Italy.

The Atlantic's artwork on its David I. Kertzler article
“The Pope, the Jews, and the Secrets in the Archives”

The abduction of the Finaly boys may also have had massive ramifications for the Roman Catholic Church. David I. Kertzler, author of The Pope and Mussolini, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for biography and the Dupee University Professor at Brown University, wrote in The Atlantic on September 22 last year, “Although I am not aware that anyone has made the link, it may not be too far-fetched to suspect that the Finaly case played a role in … the abandonment of the Church’s centuries-long vilification of the Jews.” In his article “The Pope, the Jews, and the Secrets in the Archives”, Kertzler was referring an “historic shift” through Pius XII’s successor John XXIII, “who convened a Vatican Council devoted in part to rooting out the vestiges of medieval Church doctrine on the Jews. The culmination of those efforts came only after Pope John XXIII’s death; in 1965, the Second Vatican Council issued the remarkable declaration Nostra Aetate. Reversing long-held Church doctrine, it called on the faithful to treat Jews and their religion as worthy of respect.” Of the Finaly case, Kertzer wrote, “What was not known at the time - and what, in fact, could not be known until the opening, earlier this year [2020] of the Vatican archives covering the papacy of Pius XII - is the central role that the Vatican and the pope himself played in the kidnapping drama. The Vatican helped direct efforts by local Church authorities to resist French court rulings and to keep the boys hidden, while at the same time carefully concealing the role that Rome was playing behind the scenes.”

Anneke Beekman, left, with Geertruida (Gé) van Moorst in 1961.

“l’affaire Finaly”certainly gained far more worldwide publicity than two comparable cases in the 1950s, one in the Netherlands (“The Anneke Beekman Case”) and the other in the United States (“The Hildy McCoy Case”). Anneke Henriëtte Beekman was born to Jewish couple Elias Beekman and Sara Beekman (née Fonteijn) in the Rivierenbuurt, Amsterdam, on November 21, 1940. On May 27, 1943, three weeks before they were captured by German invaders, the Beekmans had allowed the Dutch Resistance to take Anneke, just 2½, to Hilversum, south-east of Amsterdam. She came under the care of two sisters, Elisabeth Maria (Bets) and Geertruida (Gé) van Moorst. Anneke’s parents were murdered on arrival at the Sobibor Nazi extermination camp on July 9, 1943.  Anneke’s father had asked that if he did not return, he wanted his daughter to be raised as a Jew, but the Van Moorsts had the child baptised a Catholic, and her surname changed to van Laar. In February 1949 the Jewish guardianship foundation Le'ezrath Ha-jeled (The Child to Help) was granted custody in an appeals court, but Elisabeth had fled, taking Anneke with her to a convent in Val-Meer in Riemst on the south-eastern border of Belgium, and later to the Sanctuaire de la Vierge des Pauvres at Louveigné, Banneux in Sprimont, south-east of Liège. They escaped a police raid in 1954 and reached another monastery, this time in France. In 1955 Elizabeth and Geertruida, along with a Mother Superior and a Dominican priest, received prison sentences for their roles in the abduction. Anneke reappeared on her 21st birthday in November 1961, having reached her majority.

Hildy McCoy with Melvin Ellis and his wife Frances in 1957.

Hildy McCoy was born at the Kenmore Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, on February 23, 1951, the daughter of an unmarried young Children’s Hospital School of Nursing student from Marblehead and an intern at the Children’s Hospital. She was offered up for adoption and papers were signed on March 4. But Hildy was only six weeks old when her mother, Marjorie McCoy (later Mrs Doherty, of Hingham, Massachusetts), first demanded Melvin Bentley Ellis and his second wife Frances, a Jewish couple from Brookline, Massachusetts, give her back. Ms McCoy wanted Hildy placed with a Catholic family. In 1953 a Massachusetts probate judge ruled in Marjorie’s favour, rejected the Ellises’ adoption petition and ordered the Ellises to return the child. The Ellises took Hildy from Massachusetts in 1955 and on March 15, 1957, were arrested in Miami, Florida, for kidnapping Hildy and going into hiding with her. But Florida Governor LeRoy Collins refused their extradition and Florida Circuit Court judge John W. Prunty granted the Ellises’ petition to legally adopt Hildy.

Hildy Ellis in 1968.

US newspapers naturally drew comparisons with “l’affaire Finaly” in their coverage of the “Hildy McCoy Case”. The Boston Globe was especially biting in rounding on the Ellises in an editorial on July 15, 1955, saying, “We cannot refrain from noticing the silence from those areas most noisy during the famed Finaly case …” It was referring to the Jewish community’s criticism of Brun’s baptism of the Finaly brothers, when in the McCoy case a Jewish couple was fighting for custody of a girl whose mother wanted her raised a Catholic.

Antoinette Brun, right, in 1953.

Nicolas Baudy, born Miklos Neumann in Hungary in 1904, was more reasoned than the Globe’s editorialist and believed people should think for themselves. While with the Foreign Legion he was captured by the Nazis but escaped from Stalag II in 1940 and joined the resistance in Grenoble, where he would have got to know something about Antoinette Brun. He described her as “a woman some regard as a saint and others as a lunatic”. Notwithstanding the fact that Évidences was published under the aegis of the American Jewish Committee, Baudy’s 1953 article was more concerned with detail and accuracy to that point (at which “l’affaire Finaly” was still unresolved). In it he said of Brun: “She was a native of Grenoble and, after a somewhat chequered youth, a lady of good works. She lacked neither courage nor enterprise. She was a Catholic, yet enjoyed the favour of the Socialist mayor of her city, as well as having numerous other intimates in the magistracy and the municipal administration. A fat, loud, expansive busybody, with an inordinate taste for quarreling. People were somehow a little afraid of her. Behind the respectable façade of small-town life many scandals lie dormant. Antoinette Brun had seen her share of them. With the approach of age she had become devout, yet remained bossy, gossipy, and jolly. Only her charitable work gave her from now on an almost sacred halo. She terrorized some people, fascinated others. Some people would do anything for her. Grenoble was her personal kingdom, her home. Later on she was able to act the role, superbly, of a woman in revolt against the powers that be. A short while ago she, the fervent Catholic, declared to Figaro that she didn’t give a fig for the Pope. But before assuming the role of rebel, she made use of her influence with the powers that be with astonishing skill.”

                                                                    Antoinette Brun in 1953.
Brun, born in La Tronche, Isere, outside Grenoble, on May 12, 1893, was no doubt aware of the October 23, 1946, directive
from the French Apostolic Nunciature, authorised by the Holy Father, which forbade Catholic authorities from allowing Jewish children who had been sheltered by Catholics and baptised to be returned to their families and communities. Attached was a note: “Baptism is what makes a Christian, hence it ‘cancels the Jew’.” Although the boys testified they only saw her once a year, Brun had already begun to follow the dictum with fervour, blocking at every turn efforts by members of the Finaly family in New Zealand and Israel to return to Robert and 
Gérald to their closest relations. One lawyer declared, “Never has anyone seen the provisions of the law for the protection of minors made mock of with such effrontery.” After the boys had been moved to Spain, and Brun - as well as Mother Antonine (Antoinette Jannot), Superior of Notre Dame de Sion in Grenoble, and a number of priests - were arrested and faced imprisonment, the Catholic hierarchy began to look for a way out of an imbroglio which had resulted in hugely damaging publicity for the church in France. The Holy Office told Pope Pius XII that “the Jews, tied in with the Masons and the socialists, have organised an international press campaign”. Monsignor Angelo Dell’Acqua told the Pope, “the court proceedings in course will finish in favour of the Judaic thesis and the two young boys will end up in the hands of the Jews who, with ever greater ruthless obstinacy, will force a ‘Jewish’ education on them, with the resulting humiliation (at least in the eyes of a part of the wider public) of the Catholic Church … If, then, the Jews do not observe the commitment they assumed (which is likely), the fault will then be theirs and the Church will always be able, with reason, to charge them with hypocrisy.” Dell’Acqua proposed an article “to unmask the Jews and accuse them of disloyalty”. The head of the liberal branch of Judaism in France, Rabbi André Zaoui, meet Dell’Acqua in Rome and said the Jewish community had rights and responsibilities in the case. “Not, however,” Dell’Acqua replied, “of the same kind as those of the Catholic Church.” One of Pius XII’s chief deputies, Giovanni Battista Montini (later Pope Paul VI) said the Finaly affair “had inflicted a serious blow to the Church’s right and also to its prestige in the world”.

Robert, left, and Gérald with their aunt and legal guardian, Hedwig Rosner, 1953. 

Regardless of the Catholic Church’s embarrassment at having a large number of its clergy jailed for ignoring court decisions and continuing to conceal the Finaly boys, the Vatican sought to weasel its way out of the situation with some vestige of honour still intact. In exchange for returning the children to their family from the monastery of Lazcano in Franco’s Spain, the Catholic hierarchy made demands about the boys’ future religious education, and for charges against its clergy to be dropped. Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier, Archbishop of Lyon, entered negotiations with Jacob Kaplan, chief rabbi of Paris, so Rome could find a way out of its crisis. French mathematician André Weil became an intermediary and it was to his property La Moussonnière in Saint-Léonard near Senlis that the Finaly boys arrived back in France on June 27, 1953. It had taken more than three months of haggling to get them there. On July 18, their aunt and legal guardian, Hedwig Rosner, withdrew the family’s complaints against Brun and various clergy. A week later Robert and Gérald flew out of Paris on an El Al airplane to Tel Aviv with Mrs Rosner. Robert became a physician, a senior staff member at Soroka Hospital, and he and his wife Ann live in Omer, by Beersheba. Gérald pursued a career in the Israeli military and subsequently became an engineer. He insists on introducing himself as Gadi, is an army reserve officer and enjoys a pension from the Bezek Telephone Company. Gérald lives with his wife Ilana in Kiryat Motzkin after many years in Kiryat Hayim.

Robert Finaly
Gérald Finaly
Brun continued to serve in her role as director of the municipal crèche of Grenoble until her retirement in 1961. She died at Coublevie, north of Grenoble, on October 25, 1988, aged 95.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

Woman Warrior: Olive Hoskins, Armed With Her Typewriter

Olive Hoskins, the then only female member of the United States Regular Army,
at her typewriter at the Army Base in New York City on December 13, 1932.

American newspapers dubbed her the “Woman Warrior” and said she led a “Petticoat Brigade”. From December 13, 1929, until she retired with the consent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 15, 1937, Olive Lenore Hoskins was the only female in the United States Regular Army. But she never wore a uniform and never saluted a superior officer. The only ‘weapon’ she ever used was a typewriter.

1922 passport photo
Warrant Officer insignia
Hoskins was one of three females made fully-fledged members of the US Army when a move to change the status of field clerks to warrant officers was enacted by Congress on April 27, 1926. Some journalists believed that in their haste to pass the War Department Appropriation Bill, 1926, congressmen had not realised that among 327 field clerks thus enlisted into the Regular Army were the three women. The three had been what were classified as civilian headquarters clerks, and on August 29, 1916, these clerks were automatically embraced in the military as Army field clerks. Along with Hoskings, they were a Mrs Jean Doble and a Mrs N.W. Jenkins. Mrs Jenkins died at Walter Reed General Hospital in the District of Columbia 19 days later, on May 16, 1926. Because of physical disabilities caused in a car accident, Mrs Doble retired on December 13, 1929, leaving Ms Hoskins the only female still on active duty in the Regular Army until her own retirement. One male chauvinist Washington reporter wrote, “The belief is that they will probably be the only … women who will serve their country in this capacity for some time to come and that steps will be taken to prevent a repetition of the situation in the future.” From the time of the Second World War, that future offered many women opportunities to serve in the US military.

Olive Hoskins was born at Santa Rosa, Sonoma, California, on December 2, 1882. She grew up in Palo Alto, Santa Clara. One of Ms Hoskins’ sisters worked for the Quartermaster’s Department and later the civil government in the Philippines, and Olive visited her there for 12 months in 1904-05, and again in 1907. On the latter visit, she sat and passed a civil service examination and on August 1, 1907, started a job with the US Army as a civil grade headquarters clerk in Manila, on $1200 a year. Ms Hoskins remained in the Philippines until November 1912, when she was transferred back to San Francisco. On August 29, 1916, her position was changed to Army field clerk and she was assigned to Mexico during the “Pancho Villa Expedition”, which lasted until February 7, 1917.

Back in California, Ms Hoskins tried to have herself sent to the Western Front in the First World War. In the Philippines she had befriended Charles Egbert Stanton, a former paymaster of volunteers in the US Army who served in the Spanish-American War and became a captain in the paymaster corps. Stanton was a lieutenant colonel on the staff of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front, and served as Pershing’s chief disbursing officer. Ms Hoskins wrote to Washington saying that Stanton had requested her help in France. Instead, she was promoted to the intelligence unit of the Western Department headquarters in San Francisco. In 1919 she was reassigned to the Philippines, as personnel manager for the Judge Advocate’s Office. In 1922 Ms Hoskins returned to the US to work with the Seventh Army Corps in Omaha, Nebraska. She remained there until January 19, 1933, when she was once again sent to the Philippines. She resisted a transfer to Governors Island, New York, in 1934, but was ordered to duty in the Judge Advocate General’s office with the 6th Corps in Chicago in September 1935 and her final assignment from July 1936 until retirement on $140 a month in September 1937 was at the Ninth Corps headquarters in San Francisco. Ms Hoskins died at the Protestant-Episcopal Home on Lombard Street, San Francisco, on October 16, 1975, aged 92, and is buried at the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo, California.

One of Ms Hoskins’ brothers was Colonel John Oliver Hoskins (above), who died, aged 53, on January 22, 1942, while serving in World War II. He was commanding officer of the Philippine Department Headquarters. He was shot by Lieutenant Kawaguchi and buried by the Japanese at a road block on the Bagac-Morong Road, Bataan province, Luzon. His body was not recovered and he remains missing in action.

Sunday 17 January 2021

Icy Cold Case: The 126-Year Mystery of the Death of ‘Typewriter’ Martha Fuller

Who pulled the trigger of the 0.38 calibre pistol that killed “typewriter” Martha Fuller at 5.45 on the afternoon of St Patrick’s Day, Saturday, March 17, 1894? The answer to that question proved beyond New York’s finest detectives – from Dubliner Thomas F. Byrnes down – as well as its leading lawyers, its medical and psychology experts and its most frenetic shoe-leather sleuthing reporters. Coroner Edward T. Fitzpatrick told a jury the curious case was “one of those that occur not oftener than once in half a century”. District Attorney John R. Fellows said at an early inquest the “facts were inchoate [and] intangible”. Ultimately, so utterly perplexed were all these great minds and criminal investigators, professional or otherwise, that less than three months after her death, the mystery of Martha Fuller was pushed from the news pages it had dominated and quietly forgotten. It had beaten the very best in the game.

Martha Fuller, born in 1865 at Scott’s Corner, a hamlet in Montgomery, Orange County, New York, and a product of the famed Packard’s Business College, was the ‘typewriter” and stenographer for lawyer William M. Mullen in the Chambers Building at 114 Nassau Street, Lower Manhattan. She shared an office, working back-to-back, with Mullen’s managing clerk, Irish-born Joseph T. Magee. With Mullen out of town on Staten Island, Fuller and Magee were working alone when other occupants of the building were alerted by the sound of a single gunshot and Magee’s cries for help.

One of the first to join Magee at the scene of the tragedy was a hard-boiled journalist, Frank Kernan, who was working on the third floor, one floor up from where Ms Fuller died. Magee told Kernan he was out of the office when the revolver was discharged. Kernan gave police and fellow reporters a graphic description of what he found. He remained adamant in subsequent court hearings that he saw no weapon, in spite of moving Ms Fuller and his efforts to locate the gun, and that Ms Fuller, in the last throes of life, lay beside a wicker chair (which Mullen later insisted was a revolving bookcase). After Kernan left the office to seek help, a clerk from another second floor firm, Frank S. Denninger, entered the room and, ignoring the firm insistence of Magee, picked up the gun from the floor and put it on a desk, saying he feared the still-alive Ms Fuller might use it. Richard H. Burton, an office boy from Mullens’s firm, later testified that he checked the office desks and their drawers on the morning of Ms Fuller’s death, and the pistol in question was in Magee’s top drawer, though unloaded from a box of cartridges beside it. There was no doubt the revolver was Magee’s, but how did Kernan not see it, when Denninger later found it in plain view on the floor? And why was Magee so determined that Denninger not touch it? There were also conflicting stories about the entry and exit points of the 0.38 bullet on Ms Fuller’s temples. Based on size and whether there were any powder marks, the original theory was that she had shot herself at close range through the left temple, but it later emerged she was right-handed. Regardless, it was very apparent to Kernan, Denninger and others that she hadn’t died instantly from a bullet passing through her brain. An ambulance surgeon called Dr Cutter had obtained a glass of whisky from Flynn’s billiard room to inject Ms Fuller twice. As The New York Times reported, “Hope that she might rally was inspired by her extraordinary vitality.” The Times added that the surgeon had wanted to ask, “Who shot you?” All of New York City, it seemed, wanted to know that, but would ultimately be denied the truth.

On the night of her death, members of Ms Fuller’s extended family made it known they were convinced Magee had murdered her, on the grounds that she had spurned Magee’s persistent and unwelcome advances toward her. “Their relations were not as close as Magee desired,” said one report. Ms Fuller’s brother, Walter Elliott Fuller (1868-1959), a bookkeeper at Latham Alexander & Co on Wall Street, said Magee had paid Ms Fuller “distasteful attention”. Of course, New York’s red-blooded Press had an absolute field day with all this, and for weeks after Ms Fuller’s death newspaper columns were filled with interviews with people who claimed to be “in the know”, with salacious stories about Magee’s chequered past with other women, with police statements mainly aimed at trying to calm everyone down, and outright speculation (often about police work) from the reporters themselves.

Eight days after the shooting, The New York Times felt itself compelled to sort out “Much wild or silly theorizing [with] no new salient facts”, amid rumours, clues and discoveries the Times listed in inverted commas. “All these stories,” the Times said, “were idle, or well-meaning fabrications”. At the end of it all, however, the Times, along with many less fact-driven newspapers, was forced to admit Ms Fuller’s death “remains a mystery”. It was a mystery with only two possibilities: either Ms Fuller killed herself, or Magee killed her. For a time Magee was imprisoned in the Tombs, while police worked on a murder charge they failed to make stick, and immediately after his release in May, NYC police and newspapermen quickly forgot the whole thing. To this day, the sorry saga of Martha Fuller is still unsolved.

Martha Fuller was the daughter of caterer Nelson Fuller and his wife Mary (née Tears, or Teares). She was survived by her mother and brother, Walter E. Fuller. Ms Fuller was variously described by those who knew her as “of even temperament, reserved and of hitherto excellent reputation”, “an admirable young woman” and as “steady, sensible, refined and intelligent”. It was known she was unhappy with her pay and conditions in Mullen’s employ, and had set herself a target of establishing her own typewriting and stenography establishment. Mullens said Ms Fuller was “ambitious, quite a lady”, but admitted she had been sacked by Magee, who she found “exacting and fault-finding”, then reinstated. It also emerged, however, that before her death she had been losing sleep and using Antipyrine, an analgesic that helps to decrease  pain and inflammation. She had also, allegedly, self-administered chloroform, and it was claimed she was being treated for hysteria, insomnia and “nervous prostration”. Burton testified she had been seen “crying hysterically over her typewriter”.

For Thomas F. Byrnes, the famed Dublin-born head of the New York City Police’s detective department, to admit defeat in a case such as this shows just how puzzling it was. After all, Byrnes had “invented America's modern detective bureau” and no doubt gave Magee his notorious “third degree” interrogation, but with no success in proving whether Magee was guilty. Called “the American Vidocq” (after French criminalist Eugène François Vidocq) in mid-June 1894 Byrnes conceded to William Standish Hayes in the Daily True American, “No, murder will not always out. It is seldom, however, that the man who is not a professional criminal - and a high grade one at that – who commits murder is not found out.” Eleven months later, Byrnes was compelled by Theodore Roosevelt to resign. The last passing mention of Ms Fuller’s death came in mid-February 1898, when the building in which she worked burned down. It had belonged to Levi Parsons Morton, who was US vice president under Benjamin Harrison to 1893 and a governor of New York from 1895-1896.