gold-coins-pileToo Much Government Spending Forces Fiscal Change

The U.S. Government went off the gold standard for the last time in 1968.

The United States originally went on a gold standard in 1834. That is, it controlled how much money it issued based on how much gold it held. It’s a fiscal policy that limited the U.S. Government’s spending, which is why the government is no longer on a gold standard.

Going off the gold standard

Seven central bankers for various countries, including the United States met in secret meetings in March 1968. The result was the creation of a two-tiered pricing system of gold. The first tier was that transactions between governments represented in the meeting would continue at $35 an ounce while other transactions could find their own market price, which was expected to be between $40 and $45 an ounce.

Why the government needed to go off the standard

There are times, particularly during a war, where the government needs to spend a lot more money. A gold standard limits how much money they can spend by how much gold is in their treasury. The U.S. Government first suspended its gold standard during the Civil War in order to meet its expenses.

Other Suspensions of the Gold Standard

Many countries, including the U.S., suspended the gold standard during WWI. This led to Germany’s hyperinflation problem following the war. It kept printing money, but it had little gold to back it up so prices soared.

By the time of the Great Depression, the U.S. owned most of the world’s gold, but President Franklin Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard, which freed up the government to spend heavily on his New Deal Programs.

The Gold Standard Following WWII

After WWII, the U.S. and other countries made an agreement that essentially put them all back on the gold standard. The countries agreed to fix their national currency exchange rates to the U.S. dollar. In return, the United States promised to fix the price of gold at $35 an ounce.

France began a long process, however, of exchanging its dollars for gold, which weakened the U.S. dollar. At the same time, the U.S. was fighting the Vietnam War and President Lyndon Johnson needed to spend huge sums of money on his Great Society programs.

This is when the central bankers met to come up with the two-tiered system.

The Gold Standard Breaks Down

Left with a ballooning budget and a country that was still partially on the gold standard, President Richard Nixon eliminated it all together for the United States in 1971.

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“Am I a historian?”

thinking_man_PNG11607“Are you a historian?”

That’s a question I get occasionally, and I’m never sure how to answer it. I don’t have a degree in history, but then, I know people with a degree who don’t call them a historian.

I don’t study history in general or teach it for credit. I find stories in history that interest me, and then I research the details of the story as I begin to formulate the story (if it’s a novel) or organize the events to see where I need more information (if it’s non-fiction).

I don’t consider myself a historian. I think of myself as a writer who often writes about history rather than a historian who writes about his research.

To me, there’s a difference. My focus is on the writing and story and I use the history to make it interesting. You’ve probably read some of my stories on this blog. I’ve read plenty of history books that are BORING! Those are the ones that I usually keep for reference. My books aren’t meant to be reference books. They are meant to be read and enjoyed.

I have heard occasionally that I’m not a historian because I didn’t study the proper research techniques that are historians are taught. Yet, I have read books written by some of those authors who selectively present facts to support the point the writer wants to make. Other times, they extrapolate a fact to such an extent that you might consider it fiction.

Those are things I try not to do with my nonfiction. I strive to tell a story, getting all of the facts to fit together. Because I am writing about real life, some facts are outliers. If it’s something that could make a big difference to the story, I note the outlier but don’t give it much emphasis.

I do my best to get the history right, just as I try to use correct grammar and spelling.

So I ask you: Am I a historian?

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embalmingThough embalming the dead has been done for millennia, modern embalming methods that rival those of the ancient Egyptians have only been around for about 160 years.

The Egyptians were known for their masterful ability to preserve the dead, but American techniques of the 19th Century were far cruder.

According to Robert W. Habenstein and William M. Lamers in The History of American Funeral Directing (Brookfield, Wisc.: Burton & Mayer, 1995, pg. 199), one technique involved disemboweling the corpse and packing the empty body cavity with charcoal. The corpse was then wrapped in a sheet that had been soaked in alum.

French Develop First Effective Modern Preservation Method

Most sources point to 1836 as the birth of modern embalming. That is when Jean Nicolas Gannal, a French chemist, preserved a corpse by injecting it with six quarts of acetate of alumnia through the carotid artery. His idea was that his formula could preserve corpses for medical study.

“Very quickly, however, he realized that his embalming method would also find a market among funeral directors,” Thomas J. Craughwell wrote in Stealing Lincoln’s Body.

Funeral directors had been seeking a way that bodies could be left on display for a few days before burial. Craughwell suggests that it may have been a way to imitate the way bodies of royalty and other important people were displayed after death.

Gannal’s tests involved burying several bodies for 13 months and then exhuming them.

“When their coffins were opened, the dead embalmed by Gannal looked as fresh as the day they had been buried,” Craughwell wrote in Stealing Lincoln’s Body.

Sucquet Took Preservation One Step Further

One of Gannals contemporaries was J. P. Sucquet, another Frenchman who was also seeking an effective embalming method. His solution was to inject five quarts of a 20 percent solution of zinc chloride into a corpse through the popliteal artery. Besides preserving the body, it also gave the skin the appearance of white marble, according to Robert G. Mayer in his book Embalming: History, Theory, and Practice.

Civil War Creates American Demand for Embalming

The Civil War created a need for embalming in the United States as loved ones sought to have the bodies of their fallen sons, brothers, and fathers returned home for burial. As such, embalming was done in military camps before shipping a body home.

“President Lincoln took a great interest in embalming and directed the Quartermaster Corps to utilize embalming to allow the return of Union dead to their home towns for proper burial,” according to the Wyoming Funeral Directors Association website.

Holmes Develops an American Preservation Method

Dr. Thomas Holmes was a captain in the Army Medical Corps during the Civil War. He was assigned to Washington D.C. where it is said that he embalmed more than 4,000 soldiers killed in battle.

When Holmes realized the commercial potential in some of the methods he developed, he resigned from the army and began offering embalming to the public for $100, according to the Wyoming Funeral Directors Association website.

No War, No Need For Embalming

Following the Civil War, embalming fell out of popularity. Most people died in their hometowns where ice could be used to preserve the body until burial. Another reason for its falling out of fashion was that there were too few undertakers who could do embalming.

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SB CoverIt’s been a long time coming, but Smoldering Betrayal, book 1 of the Black Fire Trilogy, is out!

Not only has it been a long time coming, but it is a book that turned out a lot different than I first envisioned.

The story of Matt Ansaro’s return to his hometown to spy on friends and family during the 1922 national coal strike first took shape years ago. When I read about the coal strike, I knew I wanted to write a novel about it. The original idea was that a company spy would be turned into a double agent when his girlfriend is kidnapped by miners.

I also had a great title for the book. It was In Coal Blood.

I attempted to write the story only to meet with failure. I would get a couple of chapters into the story and run into a wall. I would outline the story and then do it again. Yet, I kept hitting the wall.

I put the project on the shelf and would return to it occasionally still hitting the wall.

Then in January 2018, I had a simple thought that changed the way I looked at the story and broke the logjam. That simple change was to make Matt Ansaro (who’d been named John Montgomery in the original story) connected to Eckhart Mines. Once I made the decision to make Eckhart Mines Matt’s hometown, I started getting all sorts of ideas about the characters, plot points, and the setting. I found myself carrying around a pad and pen to write down thoughts wherever I went. When I was in the car, I would record scenes, ideas, and snatches of dialogue that came to me. I would even be recording thoughts before I fell asleep at night.

I wrote more of the story in three days than I had in six years.

It quickly became apparent that the original story would take up more than one book. I researched like crazy. Because I was writing before I had a chance to research the setting, I had to make sure that the story fit the ways things were in Eckhart Mines in 1922 in later drafts.

Smoldering Betrayal contains some of the element of the original story, but also a lot of new ideas and characters I hadn’t planned in the original book.

I love how the book turned out. My beta readers enjoyed it, and I hope that you will, too.

Check out Smoldering Betrayal here.

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Coming in September! Smoldering Fire, a new historical fiction series from the author of Canawlers and October Mourning.

Is Matt Ansaro a spy, coal miner, or loyal family member? Sometimes even Matt isn’t sure.

SB Cover.jpgMatt Ansaro returns to his hometown of Eckhart Mines in the Western Maryland coal fields. It has been five years since Matt was here, and he swore when he left in 1917 that he would never return. Although Matt’s parents are dead, the rest of his family welcomes him home with open arms.

Joseph McCord, the superintendent of the Consolidation Coal Mines and a classmate of Matt’s, is not so happy to see Matt return. He has plans for Matt’s old girlfriend, Laura Spencer, and Joseph thinks he will need to compete with Matt for her attention.

Matt has his own plans. He is a Pinkerton detective, and he has been sent to spy on his former neighbors for the Consolidation Coal Company. The coal company owners want to know about union activity in the town and shut it down before it can gain a foothold.

Matt takes a job in the mines and works to re-establish his connections with his family and neighbors, including Laura. He also finds himself attracted to Samantha Havencroft, a suffragette and daughter of a college president.

Matt is walking a tightrope. If the miners find out he is a detective, he could be attacked and driven from town. However, if the coal company or Pinkerton Agency discovers Matt’s real reason for returning to Eckhart Mines, the result could be just as bad. He is a man alone, trying to do what he sees best, even as a national coal strike looms.

Smoldering Betrayal is the first book in the Black Fire series and full of action, intrigue, drama, and romance in the 1922 Western Maryland coal fields.

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davidmccullough-thewrightbrothersI’m a big fan of David McCullough. After all, he’s the one who showed me that a non-fiction history book could read like a novel (1776).

I can’t say The Wright Brothers was such a book, but I definitely enjoyed it and was looking forward to reading it. Like many people, I know the Wright Brothers were bicycle makers who made the first powered manned flight at Kitty Hawk that introduced the age of modern aviation.

I was very surprised that the narrative reached the historic 1903 flight so quickly. When that happened, I realized that there must be a lot more to their story. While the brothers certainly went through a lot of trials to take to the air in Kitty Hawk, I was very surprised at how much resistance they met with not only in Europe but also from the U.S. government. In fact, the Europeans embraced the brothers sooner than the U.S. government did.

Although Orville made the historic first flight, he wasn’t the brother who took the most risks. That was Wilbur. Poor Orville seems to have been the one who was injured the most. He was the pilot of the first fatal airplane accident that killed his passenger on that flight.

Also, I was surprised by how quickly aviation advanced once the Wrights broke that initial barrier.

McCullough does a great job of humanizing the brothers and their close relationship. He also throws in lots of interesting little factoids, such as the person who took the famous Kitty Hawk picture had never taken a picture before. The first photo he took became iconic.

I can’t say that this is my favorite McCullough book. That honor belongs to 1776 and The Johnstown Flood. I definitely enjoyed it, and it didn’t become overwhelming like some of McCullough’s longer books. As always, I learned a lot more about the subject of the book and enjoyed the process.

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il_fullxfull.258555561In old movies, sometimes a drunk will say that he drinks liquor for “medicinal purposes only.” Such an excuse dates to the Prohibition Era when although the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” was constitutionally prohibited, alcohol could still be used by pharmacists to prepare medications.

For pharmacists who did use alcohol in their preparations, they also had to lock them up in a secure location when the pharmacy was closed just as they had to do with other medicines. In the Shoemaker’s Drug Store on East Queen Street and Central Avenue, alcohol was kept in an alcohol vault in the basement of the building. The vault was actually a smaller vault within a larger one, both of which had locks.

On the evening of April 8, 1929, Wayne Shoemaker locked up his pharmacy and retired to the apartment at the rear of the store where he sometimes stayed. Shortly after 1 a.m. on April 9, he was awakened by voices outside his window on the Central Avenue side of his store.

He suspected, at first, that it was a policeman talking to someone.

He was wrong.

Two men, Landis Reeder and Clarence “Dutch” Rohr, were the ones talking. However, the pair went to the rear of the pharmacy and went through an archway leading to Queen Street. Perhaps they were lucky or maybe they knew that the janitor of the Zullinger Building, in which Shoemaker’s Drug Store was located, had retired a few days earlier and hadn’t locked the basement door properly.

The padlock on the cellar door hadn’t been fully attached and Reeder and Rohr were able to open the door and slip into the basement.

Shoemaker heard them enter the building. He quickly dressed and then moved into the front of his store, intending to call the police.

“About that time the men ascended a stairway leading to the drug store and in the narrow stairway knocked a large bottle off a shelf. The bottle rolled to the base of the steps and shattered with a resounding crash. The intruders then returned to the cellar and left the building by the same cellar door they had entered,” the Public Opinion reported.

Shoemaker went back through the store and slipped out the door onto Central Avenue in the hopes of seeing who came out of the store cellar. He saw two men walk around the corner of the store and start towards Queen Street.

“Both were brushing dust off their clothes. Shoemaker walked ahead of them to Queen and Central avenue where there is an incandescent light,” the Public Opinion reported. “As Reeder and Rohr passed, he said nothing but Rohr asked Reeder whether he knew the fellow standing at the pole.  Reeder replied in the negative and both men turned in Queen towards Main Street.”

Once they had passed, Shoemaker went to the police headquarters to report the break-in. The officers were out on patrol, though, so he called in his report and Motorcycle Officer Winger responded.

Upon investigation of the cellar, it was found that the would-be robbers had attempted to break into the liquor vault for something to drink. They had managed to break through the larger vault, but the small vault within had stopped them.

Winger began a search for the men. Reeder was found in his bed with his clothes on and Rohr was found on the porch of a friend’s house. Both of them showed signs of having been drinking, but whether it is liquor they found at the pharmacy or elsewhere is unclear.

Reeder and Rohr were arrested and charged with breaking and entering with the intent to commit a felony all because they got a little thirsty.

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