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Letters from Hell and Jack the Ripper

Let's be clear. We are talking about one of the first modern serial killers. Before this time such killings were attributed to werewolves, or vampires, but today "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is the modern horror fantasy. People come to the city on business or pleasure or just to get away from the small town life. Soon, letters from worried parents arrive at police stations. The city offers anonymity and the new electric lights allow more activity at night. Newcomers are often met at the train station by a helpful stranger with an easy smile and a friendly offer. Most young people return home a few months later... a little sadder and a lot wiser, but a few end up in that back alley, or in the river. It's tough out there in the big city. No one really knows when Jack the Ripper started his rampage on the East end of London. Maybe it was with Emma Smith. In the early hours of April 3rd, she is viciously assaulted with a blunt object. Please don't make me tell you how. She slips into a coma and dies the next day. Other "women of the night" fall prey to the serial killer in various gruesome ways including defleshing their faces down to the bone. The Whitechapel Vigilance Committee is organized to patrol the streets. In a letter to the Committee postmarked October 15th, Jack the Ripper includes part of the kidney of Kate Conway. He says he has eaten the other part. The letter is not signed, but it has a return address of "Hell" and ends with "Catch me when you Can". He is never caught, and never identified. The official body count is 5, which is amazingly low considering the fear that the name "Jack the Ripper" still generates in the modern day, but this is the first case of a vicious crime turned into a feeding frenzy of fear by the mass media. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
After reading the accounts of the murders and viewing the photographs of the murder scenes, I was ill. There are several letters from people claiming to be Jack the Ripper, but the "From Hell" letter is considered authentic. A few years ago, the mystery writer, Patricia Conway, investigated the murders using modern forensic techniques including DNA sampling from a letter supposedly sent by Jack the Ripper. She is convinced that the murderer was an artist named Walter Sickert, but who really knows? In the late 1800s, detective work was in its infancy. People were against deploying plain-clothed spies to entrap the public. Frankly, even today with every TV crime show displaying modern forensic techniques, the public is not convinced. Take a look at old black-and-white episodes of "Dragnet" and you'll see Sgt. Joe Friday telling solid citizens that detectives are just there to HELP the public. "Just the facts, ma'am" was the motto of the show. They were not only teaching the public to trust the police. They were also teaching the police to round up the facts, and not just the usual suspects. [4]

Tesla and the AC Electric Motor

It's the war of the patents out there with Edison taking the lead. Nikola Tesla once worked for Thomas Edison, but Edison was not particularly good to his employees, seeing them as workmen implementing his ideas or as fountains from which to take ideas. There is nothing wrong with claiming ownership for the ideas of one's employees... unless there is a provision for sharing the wealth. Edison made a deal with Tesla that he failed to keep so Tesla left. Now Tesla has developed an AC motor with rotating magnetic fields. AC stands for alternating current. Edison has the patents for DC (direct current) motors and generators. The practical difference is that AC current can be connected by wire over long distances. DC can only be connected over short distances and requires expensive repeater stations. While this makes good economic sense for Edison Electric, the buyers would like something less expensive to implement... thus AC current. Westinghouse has been looking to buy the patents for an AC motor so he contacts Tesla and makes the deal. Look out America. Electricity is coming to your town.

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Edison was very unhappy with George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla. Tesla practically gave away that deal to Westinghouse just to make sure that his technology was adopted. (Don't worry. Tesla made money on the deal, but think for a second. What would you charge for selling an invention that you know will change the whole freaking world! Yeah. They don't make checks that hold that many zeros.) Edison was so angry that he started a campaign to show how dangerous AC current was. He actually electrocuted Topsy the Elephant to demonstrate the danger. (There is a video on YouTube. It is horrifying.) Edison also convinced the State of New York to develop the Electric Chair for capital punishment cases. (Collusion is such an ugly word. I prefer bribery and graft.) William Kemmler was its first customer. He had beaten his common law wife to death with the blunt end of an axe in front of her five year-old daughter. Somehow, with all the screaming going on, his neighbors noticed. He was found guilty of murder and he agreed that he deserved to die. OK. They strapped him into the chair and hit the switch. Zap! Quick and painless... just like Edison said. But wait! They heard a moan! My God! He was still alive! They cranked up the juice and fried him. I mean they cooked him... really cooked him right there on the chair! Edison's credibility was lost. His company, Edison General Electric eventually adopted AC current because just like gasoline... it's dangerous, but if you are careful, it gets you where you want to go at a much lower cost than other methods. [5] [6] [7]

Casey at the Bat

I don't really follow baseball, but I can rightfully say that baseball saved my sanity in 1978 because I had lost my job and I would have gone crazy if I couldn't have listened to the baseball game on the radio. The famous poem, Casey at the Bat is first published in 1888 in the San Francisco Examiner and thereafter recited by various artists. My favorite rendition is by the comedy-magic duo: Penn and Teller. Penn reads the poem while Teller is suspended above the stage in a straight jacket. The rope is tied to the chair where Penn is sitting. Hopefully the suspense won't kill Teller, because if he can't release himself before Penn finishes the poem, Teller will fall head-first to the stage and his certain (well... probable) death. (Spoiler Alert: He makes it.) [8]

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
he pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out. [9]

In Other News

  • The "Merchant of Death" reads his own obituary. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, finds his own name in the obituaries, labelled as "The Merchant of Death". It is a mistake, but he plans for a better obituary by changing his will to establish the Nobel Prize for Science, Literature and PEACE! [10]
  • The Great Blizzard kills over 400 across the US east coast. This is the blizzard that every TV weather guy and gal measures the next snowfall prediction. It is a bad blizzard, but there were worse ones before this. Much, much worse. [11]
  • George Eastman produces the "Kodak" box camera. He also introduces "roll film" which will inspire the creation of the motion picture camera. No BS. This guy will be a major player in the future. [12] [13]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1888, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Cornwell, Patricia Daniels (2003). "Chapter 9: The Dark Lantern", Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper, Case Closed. New York: Berkley Books. ISBN 0425192733. “"When the Ripper began making his rounds there were only uniformed men walking their beats, all of them overworked and underpaid. They were issued the standard equipment of a whistle, a truncheon, perhaps a rattle, and a bull’s-eye lantern, nicknamed a dark lantern because all it really did was vaguely illuminate the person holding it. A bull’s-eye lantern was a dangerous, cumbersome device comprised of a steel cylinder ten inches high, including a chimney shaped like a ruffled dust cap. The magnifying lens was three inches in diameter and made of thick, rounded, ground glass, and inside the lamp were a small oil pan and wick."” 
  2. Jack the Ripper - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016. “Jack the Ripper was not the first serial killer, but his case was the first to create a worldwide media frenzy.[16][114] Tax reforms in the 1850s had enabled the publication of inexpensive newspapers with wider circulation.”
  3. From Hell letter - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016. “Though hundreds of letters claiming to be from the killer were posted at the time of the Ripper murders, many researchers argue that the 'From Hell' letter is one of a handful of possibly authentic writings received from the murderer.”
  4. Walter Sickert - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016. “Sickert took a keen interest in the crimes of Jack the Ripper and believed he had lodged in a room used by the infamous serial killer. He had been told this by his landlady, who suspected a previous lodger. Sickert did a painting of the room and titled it 'Jack the Ripper's Bedroom.' It shows a dark, melancholy room with most details obscured. This painting now resides in the Manchester City Art Gallery in Manchester.”
  5. Electrocuting an Elephant (1903) - WARNING: Viewer Discretion - Disturbing Footage - Thomas Edison. youtube.com (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016. “Topsy the Elephant belonged to the Forepaugh Circus and spent the last years of her life at Coney Island's Luna Park. Because she killed one trainer (who burned her trunk with a lit cigar), and subsequently became aggressive towards two other keepers who had struck her with a pitchfork, Topsy was deemed a threat to people by her owners and killed by electrocution on January 4, 1903 at the age of 36.”
  6. Reynolds, Terry S.; Bernstein, Theodore (March 1989). "Edison and "The Chair"" (PDF). IEEE Technology and Society Magazine: 19-28. http://simson.net/ref/1989/Edison_and_The_Chairt.pdf. 
  7. Alex Shrugged notes: I was alerted to the Electric Chair incident when Glenn Beck mentioned it on his radio show. I want to give credit where credit is due even though I can't remember exactly WHEN I heard it.
  8. Penn & Teller Go Public: 'Casey At The Bat'. youtube.com (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016.
  9. Casey at the Bat - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016. “A baseball team from the fictional town of 'Mudville' (implied to be the home team) is losing by two runs in its last inning. Both the team and its fans (a crowd of 5,000, according to the poem) believe they can win if Casey, Mudville's star player, gets to bat. However, Casey is scheduled to be the fifth batter of the inning, and the first two batters (Cooney and Barrows) fail to get on base. The next two batters (Flynn and Jimmy Blake) are perceived to be weak hitters with little chance of reaching base to allow Casey a chance to bat. Surprisingly, Flynn hits a single, and Blake follows with a double that allows Flynn to reach third base. Both runners are now in scoring position and Casey represents the potential winning run. Casey is so sure of his abilities that he does not swing at the first two pitches, both called strikes. On the last pitch, the overconfident Casey strikes out swinging, ending the game and sending the crowd home unhappy.”
  10. Kelly, Jack. Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics : The History of the Explosive That Changed the World. Basic Books. ISBN 9780465037186. “In 1888 he opened a newspaper and read his own obituary. His brother Ludvig had died recently and the reporter mistook the name. Alfred was stunned to find that he was described as a 'Merchant of Death.'” 
  11. Great Blizzard of 1888 - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016. “The Great Blizzard of 1888 or Great Blizzard of '88 (March 11 – March 14, 1888) was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in the history of the United States of America.”
  12. Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 444-445. 
  13. George Eastman - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 21 October 2016. “George Eastman (July 12, 1854 – March 14, 1932) was an American innovator and entrepreneur who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and popularized the use of roll film, helping to bring photography to the mainstream. Roll film was also the basis for the invention of motion picture film in 1888 by the world's first film-makers Eadweard Muybridge and Louis Le Prince, and a few years later by their followers Léon Bouly, William Dickson, Thomas Edison, the Lumière Brothers, and Georges Méliès.”

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