Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, visits Philadelphia and New Orleans, almost gets pressed by an English ship, becomes king of France.

Posted in History and Politics on August 17th, 2015 by byronkho

Louis Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, was a young man of 20 when he was forced to leave France after his father’s execution during the Reign of Terror. In the 21-year self-imposed exile that followed, Louis Philippe moved extensively, going from Switzerland to Scandinavia and Finland before embarking on a trip to the United States. This stateside trip was prompted by the suffering of his two brothers – Antoine Philippe, Duke of Montpensier, and Louis Charles, Count of Beaujolais – who had been imprisoned in a dank and fetid Marseilles dungeon for years. The Directory, the penultimate rulers of France during the French Revolution, had kept the Orleans siblings imprisoned and only consented to release them (after fevered negotation with their mother, the Duchess of Orleans) if they were permanently exiled to the United States, and if Louis Philippe were also to leave the Continent. On September 24, 1796, Louis boarded the “America” – a packet plying a regular route between Hamburg and Philadelphia – and spent a leisurely 27-day voyage to the City of Brotherly Love (after presenting himself to fellow passengers as a Dane, fake Danish passports on hand). Once word of his departure reached the Directory, they consented to release the younger Orleans brothers to the American consul (actually a French citizen) Etienne Cathalan, who both hid the brothers from angry Jacobin mobs baying for royalist blood and later secreted them aboard the “Jupiter” for a grueling 92-day storm-filled voyage to the New World (with a 15,000 franc annuity to boot, worth between 30 and 40,000 dollars in current US currency).

In February of 1797, the brothers were reunited at a certain house between 4th and 5th St on Walnut just adjacent to [now known as Old] St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, at the time George Washington’s church of choice. The need for secrecy gone, the brothers inserted themselves into Philadelphia society with vigor and were present at major political events in what was then the nation’s capital, including George Washington’s farewell address to Congress and the inauguration of President Adams. Their introduction to upper class Philadelphia a success, the brothers then embarked on a long picaresque journey across America. One of their first stops was to the home of George Washington in Mount Vernon, where they planned out a travel route that would take them down through Tennessee into Kentucky, West Virginia and looping back up through Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh and into upstate New York. Buffalo, Lake Erie, Niagara Falls… then down the Susquehanna and on foot to Wilkes-Barre and Philadelphia. On a second trip – after first awaiting their annual remittance to replenish their accounts – they traveled through New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine and Massachusetts before deciding on a trip to warmer climes: New Orleans and Havana.

At the time – in December of 1797 – Louisiana still belonged to Spain. It had been ceded to Spain by the French in 1762 and would only be returned to the fold by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1800, before being sold off to the United States in 1803 under Thomas Jefferson’s administration. It is perhaps unsurprising that Louis Philippe might have wanted to visit one of the cardinal cities named after his great great-grandfather, Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, and former Regent of the Kingdom of France. Initially, it was supposed to be a brief visit followed by a quick departure to Cuba. However, the corvette they had chartered never arrived, and they were forced to stay for five weeks before departing in an American vessel. While touring the estates and manses of the local aristocracy, Louis and his brothers attended a sumptuous banquet at the home of Jean-Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville, a local planter and descendant of the treasurer of the French colony at New Orleans – and also the richest person on the continent. Legends of the banquet tell us that the Marignys, so honored to have Louis await their pleasure within their humble abode, had commissioned a hugely expensive set of golden dinnerware which was used once for the dinner and then thrown wholesale into the Mississippi River, unworthy of being used by any other implicitly lesser folk. (The always-spoiled playboy Marigny would later be sent to England for education, but would instead pick up the game of Hazards. After bringing it back to New Orleans, the game sparked rivalries between the American “Kaintocks” and the Creole “Crapauds” – nicknames they gave each other – which would later morph into what we now know as craps.)

Just before leaving Philadelphia on their trip to New Orleans, Louis had learned that the Directory had banished all Bourbons from France. This meant that their entire family had been banished from their homeland; their mother fled to Spain, which was a then-ally of France and as such were also at war with the British government. Thus it was slightly awkward when, onboard the American ship in the Gulf of Mexico, an English frigate decided to stop and board the ship. Under English interpretation of maritime law, they were legally cleared to stop any vessel anywhere on the high seas and press any on board that they considered English nationals, or if the need arose. In this case, Captain Thomas Cochrane of the British ship decided that the American crew would become his crew and so they were pressed; Louis Philippe and his brothers were allowed on to the American ship as mere passengers to Havana, but not before an unfortunately-timed ducking off the side-rope during boarding. Louis would remember this episode, and Captain Cochrane. But first, they were dropped off in Havana on March 31, 1798. After a year’s convalescence in the humid streets of Havana, word reached the Spanish that the princes were there. Unhappily, Spain noted that a revolutionary fervor had gripped the island colony and so the Captain-General of Cuba was ordered to vacate the Princes post haste, fearing insurrection from local Jacobins. From there, they went to Nova Scotia for a brief respite with the Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria, before a return to New York and then England in January of 1800. Complicated political gamesmanship ensued, and this former exiled prince became King of France in 1830.

Later in his reign, King Louis-Philippe I would have reason to revisit his almost-hijacking by a British ship in non-British waters. The act was a gross violation of international law, as not only was the American vessel neutral, but the American crew were of several different nationalities. After impressment, some might be forced to fight against their own country. So it was with a certain smugness that King Louis-Philippe I watched the British squirm after an incident in which a French frigate at the blockade of Veracruz decided to board an English ship and press a Mexican pilot. While the British Parliament passed an outraged decree demanding an immediate apology of the government, the French king held back pointing out the hypocrisy that they had themselves carried out on a boat actually carrying the future French monarch. Despite his often contentious relations with England (the Bourbon branch that Louis-Philippe I deposed had fled to exile there), he retained a lifelong friendship with the English captain that carried them to Havana. While Louis Philippe immersed himself in politics, Cochrane became a naval star. As a captain hunting French and Spanish ships, Cochrane earned himself 75,000 pounds sterling or roughly $4.5 million in current USD. Unfortunately, he was caught up in a court-martial of failed tactics by a superior and forced to temporarily retire from the seas. He did not sit back: meanwhile, Cochrane proposed to Prince George (the future King George IV of England) that they should take up “explosion ships” and “sulphur ships” as devices during the Napoleonic Wars. Essentially, these were variations on the ancient fireship: one was a saturation bomb, and the other was chemical warfare using gases that would hopefully choke enemy sailors onboard their ships, leading them to jump ship. Later in his career, he was falsely convicted in a London stock exchange scandal and forced to leave England, whereupon he became a successful foreign mercenary. In 1832, Cochrane was pardoned by the English king, and in 1843, King Louis-Philippe I of France presented Monsieur le Capitaine Cochrane with a set of fully gold inlaid percussion pistols made by Jules Manceaux (France’s leading gunsmith) at the royal workshop at Tulle.

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Helltown.

Posted in History and Politics on January 21st, 2014 by byronkho

The other day I was walking by Elfreth’s Alley and I wondered a bit about what the neighborhood was like way back when…

During the latter 18th century, the area (which contains Elfreth’s Alley) bounded by Race and Market Sts., from north to south, and 2nd St. and the Delaware River, from west to east, was known as Helltown. This section of Philadelphia served as the watering hole for the city’s itinerant and unsavory, attracting gamblers, “drunken tinkers” (groups of wandering alcoholics… also, duh), “fustilugs” (dirty slatterns), “game pullets” (whores), the insane, the downtrodden poor, on-leave or AWOL soldiers and sailors, supposedly sober and hardworking servants that sought a release from their overly moral daytime servitude, and plenty of escaped slaves looking to blend in with the hordes of poor miserable wretches within Helltown.

Its centerpiece was a hard dive called the Three Jolly Irishmen, located at the corner of Race and Water Sts (whose sole attraction these days is the new FringeArts building). Within its walls, one could gamble on cockfights, watch trained pigs caper, get thoroughly soused on watered-down “gin”, obtain “spanish flies” (an aphrodisiac made from beetles, which induces over-sensitivity in women and long-lasting erections in men and had its first celebrity overdose when it supposedly made Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus insane and pushed him to commit suicide in 55 BC), find a Molly Malone or “backgammon player” willing to part with their charms for a dollar or two (then the actual going rate), or whatever other base entertainments one would be looking for on the wrong side of town. It must have been a fun place, as George Washington had to put two of his own servants into the workhouse as punishment for carousing once too often in Helltown.

John Roberts, otherwise known as Cock Robin, was a great example of the sleazy denizens of the neighborhood. With his “wives,” he leased a house just south of the Irishmen (sadly torn down at some point and now underneath the Delaware Expressway) and ran an almshouse where, its clerk scoffingly admitted, “the Paupers… [were] Debauched in every way.” After receiving entry, the inmates of Cock Robin’s lodgment were forced to sell everything they owned… and then encouraged to sell their only remaining item of value over and over again. Like many other bawdy houses in this neighborhood, Cock Robin’s establishment allowed freedom for those that wanted to speak their mind, or dress in scandalous clothing, or make love across class and race lines, or generally act unimpeded by colonial social rules. However, that also meant the freedom to get robbed by the pimps, cutpurses, untrustworthy faro dealers and back street hustlers that salivated at the sight of the Roberts’ customers, those hapless marks known as “cock robins”, the “easy fellows” that gave Roberts such pleasure at his own nickname.

Some of the military men on drunken binges in Helltown would get married to some unfortunate female via the “military marriage,” an ancient military tradition where a serjeant would conduct the ceremony and end it formally with the words “leap rogue, and jump whore, and then you are married forevermore!” Reminds me of the haphazard “Fleet marriages” that used to be conducted in the areas around the Fleet prison in London, prior to 1754, when the Marriage Act was passed. Since prisons were considered outside of Church of England jurisdiction, debtors could stay in the areas surrounding them without fear of arrest and those who wished to marry quickly without any canonical nonsense could do so (a truly civil marriage, in a time when civil marriage meant church marriage). Drunken, disgraced priests often conducted the ceremonies in the middle of dirty and unromantic public houses, with absolute creative freedom as to how the ceremony should go. Unsurprisingly, many examples from the time were completely vulgar. Also unsurprising were the scams: a common Fleet marriage crime was the “kidnapping” of some woman, making her insensibly drunk at some lowly gin joint, marrying her comatose body, and then blackmailing her family for her marriage dowry later.

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The Turk, or Creepy Robots Come To Kill Us All; also, a lot of Philadelphia.

Posted in History and Politics on March 8th, 2010 by byronkho

One of the most scary things to me are those old robotic automatons that aren’t quite robots. They’re used as fortune tellers at carnivals (remember the movie Big?) and as exhibits in traveling freakshows of the Barnum or Dr. Imaginarium variety. They sometimes have a close resemblance to porcelain, china or plastic dolls of lifelike size, which are also super-scary to me. They have lots of inner parts made of various materials that aren’t metal, so in physical appearance, lack the futuristic robot look. Instead, they seem as if (and all those easy to fool 18th century audiences will back me up on this) they are animated by magic.

One great example was the Mechanical Turk. He was the creation of Wolfgang von Kempelen, a Hungarian inventor who created not only the Mechanical Turk, but a mechanical speaking machine that was supposed to be a replacement voicebox and was a genuine scientific accomplishment in the field of phonetics. The Mechanical Turk itself was designed to seem like a mechanical chess player, but in actual operation was a mere puppet filled with levers and joints but with a human driver at the wheel – of course, nobody knew that at the time except for the owner. Its main attraction was not only that it could move “automatically” but that it displayed human intelligence (which is why it was adopted as the namesake of Amazon’s Human Intelligence Task service, which was designed to help boost artificial intelligence work). During its travels and demonstrations (with changes in ownership along the way) among major European courts and institutions, the Mechanical Turk shocked and delighted audiences who saw the machine play games of chess against royalty and famous men (including Ben Franklin) and win… Bonaparte definitely played at least one game against the machine and lost, though there are many apocryphal afterwords to that particular event.

The owners tended to use a strange box as a prop. Placed on the top of the machine, the machine operator would look into the machine several times during gameplay to suggest that it drove the machine; most observers would begin to agree with this. Many felt that it was magic, and that some strange deviltry was what drove the machine. The machine’s appearance did not help matters any. The fact that the surroundings were always hazy enough (by the greasy candlefire used at the time and not by sneaky tricks) to mask smoke from the candlelight used inside the machine (for the inside operator to see with) also added to the atmosphere of hellishness.

One of the Turk’s major changes of ownership was for the enormous sale price of 10,000 francs, to an inventor who had created a mechanical metronome. He later sold it to Eugene de Beauharnais, Prince of Venice and Viceroy of Italy, for 30,000 francs, before buying it again later for the same price. It was sold off after his death for the comparatively low sum of $400 American, and then bought up again by Dr. Edgar Allan Poe’s personal physician. Poe himself had observed the Turk several times and expressed admiration. During this time, it had toured the United States, hitting up New York, Baltimore (playing against one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) and back to Philadelphia where it stayed. After the purchase by Dr. Poe’s physician, it was exhibited for a while but eventually was donated to the museum of Charles Willson Peale.

Peale was an American painter who was a one-time member of the Sons of Liberty and eventually ended up in Philadelphia, where he expressed his nationalist fervor by painting American and visiting notables, before finally joining the militia and fighting in the Wars of Independence. His estate can be found on the campus of LaSalle University to this day. In any case, Peale opened up America’s first building dedicated to being a art and natural history museum. It was known as the Philadelphia Museum and later as the Peale Museum, and was the de facto national museum – it housed the American Philosophical Society’s collection (including many fossils donated by Thomas Jefferson), and all the artifacts and specimens from the Lewis and Clark and other major government sponsored expeditions into the interior. It made its home in Independence Hall for many years, using the space to display the first mounting of giant creatures with its bones in the right places (like most natural history museums have nowadays) in America, and one of the first in the world. It was also the first museum to adopt Linnean taxonomy, presenting findings in a structured scientific way instead of just as mysterious items.

Among such illustrious peers, the Turk would stand quiet in a corner, all but forgotten…. until 1854, when a fire spread from the National Theater in Philadelphia into the Museum building and burned the Turk (though the chessboard was saved). The owner believed he heard the Turk screaming “echec! echec!” (check, one of the vocalizations that the Turk was “programmed” to do) as it burned. To end the story of Peale’s Museum: a large part of the collection was moved to Baltimore and became a long-running museum in Baltimore’s first City Hall building and other areas until it was donated to the Maryland Historical Society. Who had bought and split up the collection into its Baltimore and Philadelphia contingents? Showmen P.T. Barnum and Moses Kimball. The Turk had many copycats, but none reached the infamy of the Turk. It was displayed and also kept its secrets for over 70 years, an incredibly long time for a device which so many were curious about. An apocryphal story had Frederick the Great paying to learn the secret; various noblemen and royalty all offered to buy it and were rebuffed. The secret was finally published by the son of the final owner after the fire, as he felt that there were no longer any reasons to conceal the secret.

One of the “afterwords” of the Turk’s story was a scandal that isn’t much discussed among the literary items discussing von Kempelen or the Turk, and in fact, is still printed in many books and believed by many. The Memoirs of Robert Houdin, a tell-all by the father of modern conjuring (essentially, of all stage magic performed after him by the likes of Houdini, who later published an ungrateful tell-all about Houdin after learning all his tricks), discussed the trick of the Turk: a Polish officer named Worousky. Worousky had both thighs shattered by cannonballs and was saved only when a doctor removed the bottom half of his body. The amputation was successful and preserved Worousky as a half-man, whose ability to play chess came in handy when persuaded by von Kempelen to be his man inside the machine. Nobody would suspect a half-man that used artificial limbs when outside the machine; as thus, he seemed some normal part of the retinue and not the little boys and midgets that people expected to be the trick of the Turk. The problem came later when Robert Houdin revealed that he had never seen the workings of the Turk, and that he had made up the entire account. By that point, it was too late – it had been published everywhere by many authors in numerous descriptions and tell-alls and memoirs of the Turk and its inventor. No problem. Books continue to be published that get it wrong, though we now believe we know how it was done. At least the American magicians’ equipment manufacturer who spent $120k making a replica version of the Turk in 1984-9 believed that he did. His Turk was operated by computer.

Back to scariness. Sarah Connor Chronicles picked a modern-day “Turk” as a forerunner to Skynet. That particular episode, one of the less horrible episodes of that crappy, crappy show, hit it right on the nail… a machine that could make intelligent decisions with frightening human awareness can jump ahead in their decision making to realize that co-existence on an equal plane was impossible and robots would have to defend number one… by killing all humans. Hello, Bender. Mechanical sentient life is scary enough without trying to bring magic into it – how do we fight a monster that doesn’t live or die like we do, and runs on code and cold logic? How do we fight a monster who knows we will become monsters, eventually? Great. Brought down by our hamartia, our love of making things easier for ourselves by making devices that save us labor and will kill us all (hello again, Bender).

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Hawthorne, Asian Gangs, Home Invasion, Swallow Your Pride, One More Slam.

Posted in Opinion on March 8th, 2010 by byronkho

An Urban Makeover: Yes, the area is definitely getting better. Though some of the extravagant comments also happen to be true. Business taxes are really high in Philly, and that’s what has kept a lot of business out of Philadelphia for the longest time. Crime is fairly high, though not so bad per capita as many other places (ahem, Camden). Population did grow last year so apparently people are coming back to town. And yes, PHA has a lot of faults, and it is entirely believable that they sit on property that could otherwise have been sold off by sheriff sale and developed already by private developers. However, it is debatable that its a good idea and is supportable. For area property values to rise, the city has to encourage responsible homeowners to move into the area… but at the same time they can’t just dump the poorer citizens of the area somewhere else to fend for themselves. The reason poorer citizens need public housing is so that they have somewhere they can afford to stay that provides them with a semi-permanent homelife as long as they can pay the affordable rent. Dumping them all ruins that homelife and destroys the chance that these poorer citizens can rehabilitate their lives and become responsible, taxpaying homeowners some day. Not that that’s impossible, it’s just much harder. And of course, it becomes another district’s problem once those people move out of this area into theirs, which is only passing the buck (which leads back to problems within PHA). I do not know what the PHA bureaucracy is like, but from all I’ve heard about it and many other city institutions, there is a lot of inefficiency involved wherein people are more concerned about being protected from lawsuits than fulfilling their mandated goals, or people who deserve to be fired are not fired but merely dropped down a rung to the next lower paygrade (meaning all debris stays in the system and the only one REALLY punished is the guy on the bottom-most rung), or the usual hoopla about Philly politics (pay to play, etc.) though most of that can be blamed on Street’s era. There are unexplainable “rules” from PHA that supposedly protect their values, like the rent-for-life deals that poor families can get regardless of ability to pay, but after a dozen years, show no movement from renter side to buyer side. There’s also the weird delays that PHA has… what do they wait for? Their building time can sometimes last much longer than private developments – even with huge subsidies from the federal government. But that’s the nature of city government and city institutions. It’s slow, ludicrous and if you can help it, you never touch it with a ten foot pole.

Just reading up about gangs in Canada and America. The usual stuff: race-affiliated, all kinds of violent crimes, lots of extortion and protection rackets… especially among illegal immigrant communities. Being Asian myself, I looked a little more into the Asian gangs to see what those guys were into. Apparently, the Crips and Bloods began to let Asians into their affiliation in the early 90s after some of the more violent Asian gangs were getting really big. By 1999, an AFP report stated that the two largest gangs in the United States were the Wah Ching (Viet-Ching) and Born to Kill, who were affiliated with the Viet-Ching. The Wah Ching boys had setup a large network all over the US and Canada, and indulged in prostitution, kidnapping, human trafficking, extortion, gambling, murder, etc., and were made up of mainly Chinese, but a lot of Vietnamese Chinese and other non-Chinese individuals as well.

It’s most interesting to see the strategy they use to move their document fraud and human trafficking “businesses”. Stolen and faked passports are recycled based on visa time length, so the most popular ones to get are multiple-entry visas for up to 10 years from Latvia, Czech Republic, Poland, Mexico, Thailand, the Phillippines and China. That also happens to be why a lot of women who are forced into adult entertainment as sex slaves tend to be from Latvia, Czech Republic, Poland, Mexico, Thailand and the Phillippines. I leave off China because that tends to be a bigger moneymaker for snakeheads who can charge families much, much more and then take even more off the illegal immigrant in “indentured servant” wages once they get into the country – and they usually have less inclination to run then the sex slaves do. (In New York, one of the most prolific snakehead gangs was masterminded by Sister Ping, an elderly Chinese lady that amassed more than $40 million transporting illegals during the 80s and early 90s. The Mexican coyotes don’t make quite so much… but I’m sure if drugs was a side venture, they would make more.)

Interestingly enough, the Asian gangs and traffickers tended to move people through LAX, JFK and Miami since there is SO much traffic through those airports; they also targeted airports that had very low numbers of Asian ethnic immigration officials, since they’re less likely to catch suspicious circumstances regarding Asian visas. They also targeted Canada because Canada had (and still has) an easier immigration policy, and also the US Commonwealth islands, as there was less inspection of individuals coming from those areas. I’m not sure how hard it is for human smugglers after 9/11, as the literature on trafficking is less succinct in recent years.

Regarding home robberies: are these statistics for realz? Cuz that’s frightening. 1 in 5 houses will get home invaded. 8000 homes are home-invaded every day across the US. Since home invasion is not a specific crime in a lot of states, there aren’t any solid statistics on it – so these numbers may in fact be low. People caught are usually charged with robbery, assault, homicide, kidnapping, etc. And they get caught usually because of the human interface; what about the key bumpers who don’t get caught and who leave no proof since the locks are never broken or seem tampered with?

Email comes in: Swallow Your Pride free screening. I was thinking the wrong thing. Apparently, it’s not about that, it’s about the Wing Bowl and competitive eating.

Song of the day. House music is da bomb.

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So useful. Other stuff.

Posted in Personal on March 4th, 2010 by byronkho

At last, a web link I can use.

Happenstance, one of the best CD releases of 2004… though you do have to like chicks playing piano and light dreamy pop.

Hella big possible new measurement terminology?

One of my favorite Irish bands:

October 2009: West Hollywood branch, Lemonade LA. Over cupcakes, blueberry lemonade and that new Carlos Luiz Zafon book. Still there?

I haven’t seen New Moon, so can’t comment on it… other than it probably has 99% bare MALE chest shenanigans and thus a good reason to skip it. The soundtrack is surprisingly cultured. Sea Wolf, one of my favorite new indie bands, has a non-album song on the soundtrack; regardless of any other song the producers might have chosen for the soundtrack, it’s all redeemed by The Violet Hour.

OMFG. One of my friends just got home invaded by 2 dudes with guns who stole a bunch of shit. Article here. The police think it’s another in a line of robberies by the same pair, except this time they were interrupted so they didn’t tie anybody up and probably stole less than they might have. CRAZY. She’s definitely not hurt so that was a huge relief. I talked it out with her tonight and it seems like she’ll need a little bit of time to get back to being okay with the world – but at least she’s somewhere she feels safe, and knows that there are people she can lean on. Be strong.

In honor of safety and being OK, “it’s not what you’ve lost But it’s what you find”:

Ellie Goulding DOES sound like Bjork but without the harshness. Sometimes the commenters are right on.

Also: apl.de.ap got the WHOLE filipino song to do. fergie wore avatar (among other things). amazing show, mostly because they seemed to LIKE being on stage. will.i.am and apl.de.ap did a bunch of joking together while doing some of their routine and you could see they were having a great ol’ time with their private joke (something to do with an invisible coin that they flipped up and never hit the ground?). dj set in the middle, big shoutouts to DJ Steve Aoki right in the middle (talk about major league endorsement) but clearly the audience was not into house at all. taboo’s gigantic floating motorcycle. luda in the house (surprise!) and lfmao too (yeah theyre okay). will.i.am not bad at freestyling (who knew?) and even if he had prepared some or most of it, it’s all about presentation. also, no low energy lulls so good job stage direction. oh yeah, it was free. thanks, bneenan.

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