On a Mental Patient

Dr. Paul had never found such a difficult case in all his years as a mental health professional. The patient was a single man in his late 30s. He was temperamental. He suffered from manic episodes. He had been violent with friends. He had even cut himself. Add to this terrible list of issues the fact that the patient abused alcohol to an extreme degree.

Yet, Dr. Paul felt that the man was not beyond his ability to help. He felt that he could aid the man in making a better life for himself. So, Dr. Paul agreed with the man’s family to take on the case, but he warned them that the patient would have to cooperate in order for any treatment to be successful.

Well, that was part of the conundrum, wasn’t it? If the family could get the patient to cooperate, they wouldn’t necessarily need the expertise of such a mental health professional as Dr. Paul, would they? But, based on Dr. Paul’s success with similar patients, the family also agreed with the course of treatment outlined by the good doctor and entrusted the man to Dr. Paul’s care.

The outlook wasn’t great. The patient had been in and out of various institutions for some months. Numerous other doctors had tried in vain to help him, so almost no one gave Dr. Paul any chance at improving the man’s lot. The patient himself certainly was not impressed by this latest physician. In a letter to his brother he wrote, “I think that we must not count on Dr. Paul at all. First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that’s that. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don’t they both fall into the ditch?” Such an opinion of his own doctor by the patient did not inspire confidence that the relationship would produce the desired results.

Indeed. The man reported that he continue to suffer from, “sadness and extreme loneliness.” However, somehow, through his depression, the patient began to bond with his new doctor.  Soon, he wrote to his sister, “I have found a true friend in Dr. Paul, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally.” The two months the two men spent in each other’s company spurred the patient to be more creative than he’d been in years.

Sadly, despite what appeared to have been a breakthrough in his treatment, the man shot himself in the chest and died from his wounds a little more than a day later. His last words were, “the sadness will last forever.“ Dr. Paul was crushed. He was among only about 20 mourners who attended the funeral. All the good doctor had to remember this sad, tormented patient by was a painting the man made of the doctor.

You may have seen it: Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent Van Gogh.

On a Wheelman

Mike sat in the vehicle alone. His two compadres were doing the job while he manned the “getaway car.” As his chums busied themselves, hurriedly gathering their loot and carrying out their tasks, Mike circled,  running all the worst case scenarios through his head. What if there was trouble? What if they got stuck? What if they couldn’t get out? He tried not to think about it. His buddies were counting on him to be there when they were done. But waiting by himself in the getaway vehicle made him feel, as he said later, more alone than anyone has been since Adam.

The three had practiced and practiced and practiced for every possible scenario. They had spent years working through the job. The idea was that more preparation meant a better chance of success. The trio had not simply gone through practice runs until they got it right; they had practiced until they could not get it wrong. Like Danny Ocean in the movies, they even worked on mockups of the scene. Each man knew his role. They had experience. No, this wasn’t their first time doing this.

And, so, Mike brought the vehicle right around one more time and waited. “What will I tell their families if they don’t make it out?“ He thought. “I don’t want to be the guy, the only guy who lives through this.“ Again, he circled.  No sign of them.  It shouldn’t be taking this long. They should be back by now. He even contemplated going to get them directly, but that wasn’t part of the plan.  Stick to the plan, Mike told himself. Stick to the plan.

Thirty times Mike circled.

You might think that, by this time, the average wheelman would begin to give up and try to make good his own escape. But not Mike. No, in fact, he felt a heightened, “awareness, anticipation, satisfaction, confidence, almost exultation.”  Suddenly, on the final pass, he saw them. Mike’s two pals we’re coming towards him as quickly as they could.  Just as they had planned it, Mike did not even have to stop to let his buddies enter the vehicle.

Mike tried to hide his relief and excitement once his buddies were inside. As he steered away, he asked calmly, “How did it go?“ His buddy Neil gave him a thumbs up while other member of the trio, Buzz, grinned broadly.

That’s when Commander Michael Collins radioed Houston that Apollo 11 was returning to earth.



On a Movie Star

Modern Hollywood owes a large debt to the silent film era. The film industry as it exists today would not be as it is without the stars in front and the creative talents behind the camera of that era. This story is about one of the most famous silent films stars ever.

This star is actually one of the more unlikely Hollywood stories. In the period after World War I, sentiments about Germans and German actors wasn’t favorable. However, this star was German, but he was among the most popular star of the silent era. And, sadly, his contribution to the success of the film industry in the 1920s and beyond is often overlooked.

Throughout the decade of the 1920s, this star made almost 30 pictures. He worked with almost all the leading actors and actresses of his day. He received a key to the city of New York. Fan clubs and well wishers could not get enough of him. There was even a period where he even received more fan mail and sent more autographed photos of himself than did Charlie Chaplin.

Darryl F. Zanuck, the famous Hollywood producer, first made his reputation writing screenplays specifically tailored for this actor. One of these early films did so well that it is said that this actor alone saved Warner Bros. Studios from financial ruin. When film transitioned from silent to talking pictures in the late 1920s early 1930s, this star, despite being from Germany, made the transition seamlessly and had no issue at all adapting to the new medium. Amazingly, he had no accent whatsoever.

Unfortunately, near the height of his popularity, this film star passed away at a young age. Condolence telegrams flooded into Hollywood. The worldwide acclaim for the talents of this actor astounded many in the industry. “His ability to convey emotions on the screen transcended culture and language,“ one foreign newspaper reported. “There will never be another like him.“ Rumor had it that he died in Jean Harlow’s arms, but this wasn’t so.

Yes, this German actor, honored and beloved, was discovered by an American soldier who ran across him living in a bombed out shelter in eastern France at the end of World War 1. The soldier took pity on him, noting how weak and thin and malnourished he was. The American GI brought him to the US and eventually to Hollywood, and the rest is history. Yes, even though he was discovered while living in France, he was really German—a German Shepherd, in fact.

You know him as Rin Tin Tin.

On a Wealthy Widow

After almost 30 years of marriage, Eliza Jumel found herself, at age 58, a widow woman with some money.   Her dead husband, like Eliza herself, had been born in humble conditions, but he had managed his money well and had left her a good fortune. Eliza discovered that money, however, could not keep her company. She wanted a social life and wealthy friends. So, Eliza went looking for a husband who would bring a notable name to go along with her wealth.

She found such a man in New York City only 14 months after her husband‘s death. This older man was a veteran of the American Revolution and had but a modest pension from that and some other government work he had done. He was well known in the town. So, a merger of sorts was arranged; she seems to have married the older man to increase her standing in the society of New York, and he seems to have married her to secure his financial position in old age.

The marriage did not work from the start. These types of things seldom do. The older man got his hands on Eliza’s liquid assets immediately.  He surreptitiously acquired the money and spent it rapidly to cover debts he had incurred before the couple got together, debts that he hadn’t disclosed to Eliza. When she discovered the betrayal by her new spouse, Eliza, understandably became livid. After only four months of marriage, Eliza left the older man, managing to keep her non-liquid assets separate.

In order to facilitate a quick divorce, Eliza enlisted the services of a well-known New York attorney, a man named Alexander Hamilton, Junior. Yes, indeed, Eliza’s divorce attorney was the son and namesake of the famous former US Secretary of the Treasury, General Alexander Hamilton, the man who had been famously killed in the duel with then vice president Aaron Burr way back in 1804.

Hamilton Junior protected as much of Eliza’s estate as he could from the clutches of her new husband, and a divorce was finalized in September of 1836.  When she passed away in 1865 at the age of 90, Eliza was known as one of the wealthiest women and most astute businesswomen ever to live in New York City.

Ironically, the date that her divorce was finalized in 1836 was also the date that the older man, the husband she was divorcing, passed away.

His name?

Aaron Burr.

On Apple Cider

As the United States ended its struggle over independence from Great Britain in the early 1800s, the young nation began another struggle. The country started coordinating the movement towards and settlement of the western territories. There were so many issues to consider: Native American displacement, land surveys, government organization, improving overland routes, infrastructure issues, and so much more.

We forget the vital role that alcohol played in the settlement of the American west in the years after the American revolution. Alcohol became one of the most traded items on the frontier of settlement. In fact, in many places along the frontier, alcohol served as the de facto currency.

In order to spur settlement, the United States government offered large tracts of free land in the west if the settlers could show that they were permanent residents on the land. So, towards that end, land claimants were required to grow fruit in order to show permanence and thus keep possession of their claim. Most settlers grew apples—not for eating but, rather, for cider making.

According to those who know these things, apples grown from seeds usually don’t produce fruit sweet enough for eating. Apparently, it takes about a decade for apple seeds to be large enough to start producing fruit, and that’s about how long land claimants needed to prove they were permanent settlers and, thus, receive the land grant for free.

The Smithsonian website notes that, “Cider provided those on the frontier with a safe, stable source of drink, and in a time and place where water could be full of dangerous bacteria, cider could be imbibed without worry.” One historian noted that a history of the settlement of what is now the Midwest must be seen through an almost alcoholic haze as a result of so much alcoholic apple cider.

In fact, many orchards left over from the frontier days dotted parts of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana well into the 1920s that, during Prohibition, anti-liquor advocates took axes in hand and chopped down hundreds of apple trees for fear that the fruit—again, fruit never sweet enough for eating—would be used once again for making “that Demon Cider.”

All of this fruit being associated with alcohol certainly would have horrified any frontier folk who were of a religious bent, and many were. In fact, most historians point to a particular deeply religious man who, more than most, was responsible for the establishment of almost all the apple orchards across the Midwest during the frontier days. This man, everywhere he went, preached piety and austerity and thrift and hard work—and planted apple orchards. He would most likely be mortified to think that his life‘s work would be so closely associated with alcohol. His name was John Chapman.

You know him as Johnny Appleseed

On a Curious Boy

Peter was a strange child. For example, one of his favorite things to do was to rife the pockets of the adults around him to see what interesting things could be found there. He was born around 1713, and, like most kids from the lower classes of the 18th century, Peter had no formal education to speak of. The farm where he eventually came to live and work, owned of course not by his family, came to see him as a sort of mascot or pet, even when he became an adult. He had a natural curiosity about him, Peter did, and part of that curiosity may have stemmed from an unusual event in his life. It was at the age of about 12 when Peter moved from Germany, his homeland, to Britain. Such a move was unusual for a person of his social status at that time in history, and the change of venue obviously changed Peter’s life forever.

Again, unusually for someone of his station, Peter came to be feted by members of the British Royal family. In fact, his move to the British Isles was precipitated by the daughter of King George I, Caroline, the Princess of Wales. She met Peter near his home outside of what is now Hanover, Germany, when he was but a young boy, and she immediately was captivated by his unique character.

In fact, the princess was so taken with the boy that she ordered he be painted into one of the official portraits of the King’s court. The painting, by William Kent, now hangs in the hall of Kensington Palace in London. You can see Kent’s depiction of Peter today, the boy depicted wearing a smart green coat, standing to one side of the large group of the courtiers, and holding some tree foliage in one hand.

The princess even arranged for Peter to be tutored by an important physician of the day, the famous Scottish doctor, John Arbuthnot. Dr. Arbuthnot worked with Peter to teach him to read and write and speak the King’s English, but Peter had no interest in those things. In fact, Peter preferred to spend time outdoors, walking in the fields or running through the woods—both perfectly normal things for a young boy to want to do.

Eventually, Dr. Arbuthnot gave up. The princess, despairing of her young charge, eventually decided that it would be best for Peter to go to live with one of the chambermaids of her mother’s, a woman who came from the country originally. This woman, in turn, entrusted Peter to a yeoman farmer she knew, and so Peter ended up spending most of his life on the farm where, as stated above, he became a favorite of all who knew him there.  A nice yearly sum was given to the farmer by the royal family on Peter’s behalf. He lived to be about 70, loved and cared for all his days. His grave is near the door of the local church in Northchurch.

You might think that Peter’s parents would have had a say in what happened to their son, but Princess Caroline did not even consult them in making her decisions regarding the boy’s future. Thus, Peter’s father and mother had absolutely no choice in deciding Peter’s future.

How could they?

After all, no one knew who Peter’s parents were.

By the way, when Peter would bunk off from his lessons with Dr. Arbuthnot and run in the woods, he even did that in a curious way. He ran…on all fours. Also, one reason Arbuthnot had no success with Peter was that he couldn’t speak at all. You see, Peter had been found living naked and alone in the woods near Hanover by some hunters led by King George.

He was the original feral child.

You may know him as Peter the Wild Boy.

On a Visit with Charlie

It’s difficult for a person in today’s world to understand how immensely popular Charlie Chaplin was during his heyday as a silent film star and director. Chaplin was mobbed everywhere he went. People could not get enough of stories about Charlie. Photos of his most famous character, the Little Tramp, filled magazines and newspapers.

Sometimes Charlie found it difficult to make his movies, even when he would be filming or directing on a studio lot. People, famous or not, would often stop by and demand that Charlie take a moment to speak to them and maybe have a photograph or two taken with him. As you can imagine, this became very annoying and disruptive to Charlie as an artist. Yet, when someone showed up on set, Charlie rarely turned him or her away. Such was the case in 1919, when a young woman showed up to meet him on the set of his movie, Sunnyside.

Usually, Charlie would tell the cast and crew to take a short break while he made small talk and posed for the obligatory photographs. But, on this day, something was different. Rather than taking just a few moments and then getting right back to work, Charlie seemed  immediately and absolutely captivated with the young woman. It seemed odd. She was certainly no beauty.

You probably know that Charlie had a deserved reputation as being a man who had an eye for beautiful women, and one could almost understand him taking a little extra time if the woman were especially attractive, but this was so obviously not the case. This woman was awkward. Her movements were stilted. Yet, Charlie ended up spending several hours talking to her. And, again oddly, during their whole time together, the woman said absolutely nothing to Charlie—not one word.

That actually suited Charlie quite well. It was said about him that he was someone, “who tries to avoid people who talk too much, which gets on his nerves.” Perhaps that’s why Charlie became friends with a artist in California named Granville Redmond. Redmond was a deaf mute, but he and Charlie got along famously. Charlie said that he learned from Redmond that subtle movements and actions carry great weight if they were done properly. Redmond also taught Charlie sign language, and Charlie helped promote Redmond’s art career.  But, at the heart of their friendship, the fact that the two men could communicate without speaking seemed to be important to Charlie.

And that may be why he spent so much time with the woman that day. For, like Redman, this woman was also a deaf-mute. In fact, she was also blind.

The great silent comedian did all the talking that day because he had spent the hours with a young woman named Helen Keller.