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The Story of Al Capone

On this date in history, 1931, Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion. But it didn’t come easily or quickly. This is his story.

Al Capone was born in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City to Italian immigrants. Capone was a Five Points Gang member who became a bouncer in organized crime premises such as brothels. In his early 20s, he moved to Chicago and became bodyguard and trusted factotum for Johnny Torrio, head of a criminal syndicate that illegally supplied alcohol and that was politically protected through the Unione Siciliana. A conflict with the North Side Gang was instrumental in Capone’s rise and fall. Torrio went into retirement after North Side gunmen almost killed him, thereby bringing about Capone’s succession. Capone expanded the bootlegging business through increasingly violent means, but his mutually profitable relationships with mayor William Hale Thompson and the city’s police meant Capone seemed safe from law enforcement. Apparently reveling in the attention, such as cheers when he appeared at ball games, Capone made donations to various charities and was viewed by many to be a “modern day Robin Hood.” However, the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of gang rivals from the North Side Gang damaged Chicago’s image, leading influential citizens to demand governmental action.

The federal authorities became intent on jailing Capone and prosecuted him for tax evasion in 1931. The case was highly politicized and both prosecutors and judge later received preferment. During prior and ultimately abortive negotiations to pay the government any back taxes he owed, Capone had made admissions of his income; the judge deemed these statements usable as evidence at the trial, and also refused to let Capone plead guilty for a lighter sentence. The effect of such decisions by the judge was added to by the incompetence of Capone’s defense attorneys. Capone was convicted and sentenced to a then record breaking 11 years in federal prison. Replacing his old defense team with experts in tax law, his grounds for appeal were strengthened by a Supreme Court ruling, but Capone again found that his status as a symbol of criminality meant that judges decided against him. Already showing signs of syphilitic dementia by early in his sentence, he became increasingly debilitated before being released after eight years. On January 25, 1947, Capone died of cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke. Capone’s conviction had negligible effect on the prevalence of organized crime in Chicago.

First Manned Apollo Mission Launches

On October 11, 1968, NASA launched its first successful manned Apollo mission, with astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn R. Eisele, and Walter Cunningham aboard.

Apollo 7 was a human spacecraft mission carried out by the United States. In addition to being the first such mission to carry man to space, it was the first U.S. spaceflight to carry astronauts since the flight of Gemini XII in November, 1966.

The mission was an 11-day Earth-orbital test flight to check out the redesigned Block II Apollo Command/Service Module with a crew on board. It was the first launch of a Saturn IB vehicle to put a crew into space, the first three-person American space mission, and the first live TV broadcast from an American spacecraft. It was successfully launched from what was then known as Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Florida. Despite tension between the crew and ground controllers, the mission was a complete technical success, giving NASA the confidence to launch Apollo 8 around the Moon two months later. However, the flight would prove to be the last NASA space flight for all of its three crew members when it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on October 22, 1968. It was also the final manned launch from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station.

The Rushmore Report: Which Presidents Were the Most Religious?

Consistency is something of an American tradition – at least as far as our presidents are concerned. Forty-four individuals have served as Commander-in-Chief. (Grover Cleveland held two non-consecutive terms.) They came from 18 states, have all been male, and almost all claimed to be Christians. Only three were religiously unaffiliated: Jefferson, Lincoln, and Andrew Johnson. But who have been our most religious presidents?

Six stand out.

Jimmy Carter

Famous for being a Baptist Sunday School teacher, Carter is recognized as the first “born again” president. Prior to serving, Carter took a missionary journey in which he knocked on strangers’ doors and said, “I’m Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer, and I’m here to talk to you about Jesus Christ.” Carter read the Bible and prayed daily throughout his time in office, yet he would ultimately be rejected by the emerging evangelical right.

George W. Bush

This second-generation president was one of the most comfortable when it came to talking about his faith, as he courted religious leaders, and used overtly religious language to justify policy decisions. Bush once famously remarked,”I believe God wants me to be president.” So intense was his spiritual fervor that Steven Mansfield concluded, “Whatever else the presidency of George W. Bush imprints on American history, it will at least have granted the nation an opportunity to rethink the role of religion in public life.”

William McKinley

A proud Methodist, McKinley avoided drinking, swearing, and smoking. He was a regular church attender while in office and according to eyewitnesses was quite an enthusiastic hymn singer. He also believed that the government had a duty to spread both democracy and the Christian religion abroad. McKinley’s last words before death were reportedly, “Goodbye, goodbye all. It’s God’s way. His will, not ours, be done. Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee.”

James Madison

President Madison was a faithful Episcopalian who signed a federal bill to appropriate funds for Bible distribution. Madison served on the Congressional committee that established and selected Congressional chaplains and he encouraged all public officials to openly declare their faith. Later in life, Madison retracted many of his beliefs – arguing that government-paid chaplains and president-led prayers were unconstitutional. But he is still one of America’s most religious heads of state.

Abraham Lincoln

Though he often struggled with faith and even doubted the divinity of Jesus Christ, Lincoln often utilized religious language and quoted the Bible in public speeches. Many of Lincoln’s friends attested to his personal conversion, but Lincoln never explicitly declared it. He was not a formal member of any church, but only about a quarter of Americans were in 1860. Even still, Lincoln’s faith has been intensely felt among Americans since the time of his presidency, perhaps due to the conditions under which he served.

James Garfield

President James A. Garfield was the only clergyman to serve as Commander-in-Chief. He was lauded for his skill as a preacher, and he learned Greek in order to better understand the New Testament.

About the Author

Jonathan Merritt writes and blogs on issues pertaining to faith and culture.

Little Rock’s High School Integration – 60 Years Ago Today

On this day in history, 1957, under escort by the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division, nine black students entered all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Three weeks earlier, Governor Orval Faubus had surrounded the school with state National Guard troops to prevent execution of a federal court order – that the school achieve racial integration. Blocked at the door, the students endured intense verbal abuse from a white mob.

At one point, Elizabeth Eckford was surrounded and threatened with lynching. After a tense standoff, President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and also sent in the paratroopers to enforce the court order. After Eisenhower’s action, the Little Rock Nine entered the school, where some white students made additional verbal and physical assaults on the newcomers. Melba Pattillo had acid thrown in her eyes, and Eckford was pushed down a flight of stairs. The male students in the group were subjected to more conventional beatings.

Change never comes easily. As a son of the South, I am embarrassed for segregation – and the reluctance to integrate. When I was a child growing up in Houston, we still had “colored drinking fountains” at the Houston Zoo. My junior high school had just eight blacks. And fights were a common affair.

In today’s culture, it is easy to see how far we still have to go. But when we look back a bit, we can rejoice to see how far we have already come.

Benedict Arnold

On this day in history, 1780, Benedict Arnold gave the British the plans to West Point. Arnold was a general during the American Revolutionary War who originally fought for the American Continental Army but defected to the British Army. While a general on the American side, he obtained command of the fortifications at West Point, New York. When his plans to give information to the enemy became known, he defected to the British side.

In July 1780, Arnold was offered American command of West Point. When his plot to betray his men was discovered, he fled down the Hudson River to the British area known as Vulture, narrowly avoiding capture by the forces of George Washington, who had been alerted to the plot.

Throughout history, there have been stories of traitors. Judas was one. He betrayed Jesus for a few coins. Peter was one. He denied Christ three times in one night. And I am one. I rejected his claim on my life for years.

Whose side are you fighting on? I love the words of Joshua. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

 

The Rushmore Report: The Death of a President

The death of a president – it happened this week in history, 1881. James A. Garfield died of wounds suffered in a shooting two and a half months earlier. Much has been made of the assassinations of presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. But the death of Garfield was interesting in many ways. For example, Lincoln’s son was an eye witness. And despite the shooting, President Garfield didn’t have to die. This is his story.

Garfield was scheduled to leave Washington on July 2, 1881, for his summer vacation. On that day, Charles J. Guiteau lay in wait for the president at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, on the southwest corner of present-day Sixth Street and Constitution Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.

President Garfield came to the Sixth Street Station on his way to his alma mater, Williams College, where he was scheduled to deliver a speech. He was accompanied by two of his sons, James and Harry, and Secretary of State James Blaine. Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln (Abe Lincoln’s son) waited at the station to see the president off. Garfield had no bodyguard or security detail; with the exception of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, early U.S. presidents did not employ guards.

As President Garfield entered the waiting room of the station, Guiteau stepped forward and pulled the trigger from behind at point-blank range. “My God, what is that?” Garfield cried out, flinging up his arms. Guiteau fired again and Garfield collapsed. One bullet grazed Garfield’s shoulder; the other hit him in the back, passing the first lumbar vertebra but missing the spinal cord before coming to rest behind his pancreas.

Most historians and medical experts now believe that Garfield probably would have survived his wounds had the doctors attending him been more capable. Unfortunately for Garfield, most American doctors of the day did not believe in anti-sepsis measures or the need for cleanliness to prevent infection. Several inserted their unsterilized fingers into the wound to probe for the bullet, and one doctor punctured Garfield’s liver in doing so.

Also, self-appointed chief physician D. Willard Bliss had supplanted Garfield’s usual physician, Jedediah Hyde Baxter. Bliss and other doctors who attended Garfield had guessed wrong about the path of the bullet in Garfield’s body. They had erroneously probed rightward into Garfield’s back instead of leftward, missing the location of the bullet but creating a new channel which filled with pus. The autopsy not only discovered this error but revealed pneumonia in both lungs and a body that was filled with pus due to uncontrolled septicemia.

We have had four presidential assassinations in American history. But only this one was the result, in part, of poor medical care. The death of a president – it happened 136 years ago this week.

 

The Day a President Died

William McKinley was the 25th president of the United States. He was a man of great accomplishment. McKinley led the nation to victory in the Spanish-American War, raised tariffs that promoted American industry, and maintained the gold standard. He was the last president to have served in the Civil War and the only president to have started the war as a private in the Union Army.

Amid a deep economic depression, the Republican defeated William Jennings Bryan, who had been heavily favored in the 1896 election. He defeated Bryan in a rematch in 1900.

But McKinley’s legacy was cut short in a single day. On September 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American, shot the president. He died eight days later, on September 14, 116 years ago today. This thrust Vice President Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency. And the successful presidency of Mr. McKinley was soon overshadowed by the ever popular Roosevelt.

Life can change in a moment – for good or bad. And sometimes this change is beyond our control. The lesson? Take hold of today – the only day you are promised. Make it count, because what happens next is anyone’s guess.

September 11, 2001

On this day, 16 years ago, five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the northern facade of the World Trade Center’s North Tower, followed by another five hijackers crashing United Airlines Flight 175 into the southern facade of the South Tower. Five more hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon moments later. Within 51 minutes, all three events transpired.

A fourth flight, United Airlines Flight 93, under the control of four hijackers, crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh, a few minutes later. Flight 93’s target is believed to have been the Capitol or the White House.

At 9:40 a.m., the FAA grounded all aircraft within the continental United States, and aircraft already in flight were told to land immediately. All international civilian aircraft were either turned back or redirected to airports in Canada or Mexico, and all international flights were banned from landing on U.S. soil for three days.

The attacks created widespread confusion among news organizations and air traffic controllers. Among the unconfirmed and often contradictory news reports aired throughout the day, one of the most prevalent said a car bomb had been detonated at the U.S. State Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Another jet – Delta Airlines Flight 1989 – was suspected of having been hijacked, but the aircraft responded to controllers and landed safely in Cleveland, Ohio.

If ever there was a day when we all remember where we were, it was 9/11. I got the call from my soon-to-be assistant at my new position, as pastor of a church in north Texas. I quickly turned on my TV and followed the events with the rest of America.

There are too many lessons from 9/11 to recount here. I leave you with one. Ours is a great country. May it not take another tragic event like 9/11 to remind us of that fact.

The Day Edison Flipped the Switch

After devising a commercially viable electric light bulb on October 21, 1879, Thomas Edison went on to develop an electric “utility” designed to compete with the then existent gas lighting utilities. In 1880, he founded the Edison Illuminating Company. The company established the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882 on Pearl Street Station in New York City.

It was there, on this date in 1882, that Edison switched on his Pearl Street generating station’s electrical power distribution system, which provided 110 volts of direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan.

Earlier in the year, he had switched on the first steam-generating power station at Holborn Viaduct in London. The DC supply system provided electricity supplies to street lamps and several private dwellings within a short distance of the station. On January 19, 1883, the first standardized incandescent electric lighting system employing overhead wires began service in Roselle, New Jersey.

Thomas Edison was an innovator like no other. We owe him far more than most Americans realize. But the real secret behind Mr. Edison was this – he used his giftedness for the benefit of others.

That’s all God wants any of us to do. There comes a time when we need to quit doing what we have always done in order to do what we were born to do.

Surrender

Combat ended in the Pacific Theater of the Second World War on September 2, 1945. Following the dropping of two atomic bombs, the Instrument of Surrender by Japan was signed by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and accepted aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo.

After the Japanese agreed to surrender, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser of the Royal Navy, the Commander of the British Pacific Fleet, boarded the Missouri on August 16 and conferred the honor of Knight of the British Empire upon Admiral Halsey. Missouri transferred a landing party of 200 officers and men to the battle ship Iowa for temporary duty with the initial occupation force for Tokyo on August 21. Missouri herself entered Tokyo Bay on the 29th to prepare for the signing by Japan of the official instrument of surrender.

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz boarded shortly after 8:00 am, and General of the Army Douglass MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allies, came on board at 8:43. The Japanese representatives, headed by Shigemitsu, arrived at 8:56. At 9:02, General MacArthur stepped before a battery of microphones and opened the 23-minute surrender ceremony to the waiting world by stating, “It is my earnest hope – indeed the hope of all mankind – that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”

Man is still seeking freedom. Thank God for men like Douglass MacArthur – for reminding us of the things that matter most in this life – freedom, tolerance, and justice.