Sunday, February 20, 2011

THE PLOT TO DESTROY NEW YORK

The Personals Ad That Set a Confederate Plot In Motion
Most of the history books, when relating events in the American Civil War, tend to provide information about battles and the presidency. There was at least one major event that wasn’t a battle that usually is not covered at all - the plot to burn New York City. A fascinating twist to this plot is that a personals ad was the signal to set the plan in motion.In March, 1864, the Confederates viewed Grant's appointment as Commander of all Union Armies as doom to Lee in the East. The Richmond government decided that at that point the best way to beat the Union was to terrorize the North. Many secret meetings were held to formulate a master plan. Various chapters of the Northern Copperheads formulated a common plan over long distance. Getting messages back and forth between the North and South was becoming increasingly difficult. Spies and blockade runners were utilized to transmit messages from one order to another. At times, even personal ads that had been specially coded were printed in the Richmond Whig with a notation that "New York papers please copy." Such messages were invariably reprinted by at least the New York Daily News as the paper was a Southern Sympathizer.
It was an incredible scheme. When finalized, New York City was their target and the plot was thus: One group was to be responsible for setting off a series of fires as a diversion while another group was to seize Federal buildings and municipal offices, still another to take control of the police department, and yet another to free prisoners from Fort Lafayette and throw the Army Commander in New York, Major General John Adams Dix, into a dungeon. By sunset a Confederate flag would surely fly over New York City. This would surely be a coup for the Confederacy!
About the time the plot was finalized, Richmond learned from its spies that Washington was beginning to obtain bits and pieces of the plan to capture the North. It was then decided that, since everything but the date had been formalized, no more messages would be sent by runners. It was further decided that for two reasons carrying out the plot would wait. One reason was to lay low to give Washington the impression that the plot had died, and, two, the most opportune time to best capture the North off guard would be soon after another Union victory. Since Southern newspapers could still freely travel to Canada, members were instructed to keep reading the Richmond newspaper for an editorial advising that a "Northern city" should be burned in retaliation. (It is not known just how it was accomplished, but the same personals ad also appeared in the New York Times a few days later!) At that time they were to congregate in New York's St. Dennis Hotel and begin to put the plot in motion.
The October 15, 1864 edition of the Richmond Whig carried the awaited for word. The leader of the fire brigade was a Confederate by the name of Robert Kennedy. Kennedy and the rest of his group met at the St. Dennis Hotel like planned. At that time final coordinates were made. Over the next few days his men were to each register for a weeks stay in several assigned hotels each -- using assumed names and towns of course. This was to gain them access to rooms in the hotels.
Arrangements had been previously made with a chemist residing in New York, but a Southern Sympathizer, to pick up a load of Greek fire. This was a special chemical combination that looked like water but, when exposed to air, after a delay, would ignite in flames. When Kennedy picked up the valise, he found it contained dozens of small bottles of the liquid and each bottle was sealed with plaster of Paris. Instructions were to use the bed in each room, pile it with clothing, rugs, drapes, newspapers, and anything else that would burn, Next, they were to empty two bottles of the Greek fire on top of the pile. In about five minutes, flames would ignite the pile. This delay gave them plenty of time to escape unnoticed before the fire started. After starting one fire, the man would then proceed to the next location and do the same. Each man would thus be capable of setting off several fires blocks from each other.
Still making final arrangements on November 2 to casrry out the deed, a disturbing telegram was sent by Secretary of State William Seward to the Mayor of New York. It read: This Department has received information from British Provinces to the effect that there is a conspiracy on foot to set fire to the principle cities in the Northern States on the day of - the Presidential election. It is my duty to communicate this information to you." Later that afternoon the telegram was made public. (The same telegram was also sent to the mayors of other major Northern cities like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.) At this time MOST of the Order members decided to abandon the plan and get out of the city in an attempt to save their own lives -- ALL that is except for Kennedy and five of the seven members of his band.
After several meetings, it was decided by Kennedy and the rest of his gang to go ahead with the plan and set New York City on fire. They wouldn't be in a position to capture New York after all but at least they could retaliate for Sherman's March to the Sea.
On the evening of November 25, 1864 the fires began. Before the night was over almost every hotel in New York City had been set ablaze. These hotels included the St. Nicholas, St. James, Fifth Avenue, La Farge, Metropolitan, Tammany, Hudson River Park, Astor House, Howard, United States, Lovejoy's, New England, and the Belmont. There were also fires on the Hudson River docks and a lumber yard. As a last minute thought, Kennedy decided to go into Barnum's museum and up to the fifth floor where he could obtain a good view of Broadway and several of the fires. After watching for several minutes, Kennedy started going down the stairs. The remaining bottle of Greek fire dropped from his coat pocket and broke in the stairwell. Wasting no time, Kennedy ran from the museum, out the front door and on down Broadway.
Meeting his band of men the next morning at the Exchange Hotel, one of the few that they hadn't set fire to, Kennedy and his men read the morning papers. While there were some reports of the fires, the news didn't fill the front page like they hoped it would. Both the Times and the Herald however headed the news of the fires as a "Rebel Plot." Kennedy and his men managed to get out of New York City on November 28. Soon a $25,000 reward was offered. This, combined with Kennedy's boasting of his role in setting the fires, led to his capture three months later. After a short trial, Kennedy was found guilty on all counts. At this time, Kennedy signed a confession but refused to name anyone else involved in the plot. On March 25, 1865, -- just three weeks prior the Lincoln's assassination -- Kennedy was hung.
(Despite being off the subject, but as a result of researching the above article, I must divulge some interesting tidbits I learned about the Lincoln assassination. John Wilkes Booth arrived in New York the same day that Robert Kennedy did and they had a couple of meetings together. Robert Martin, a member of Kennedy's gang in New York, but who didn't get caught, was a member of Booth's gang that attempted to kidnap Lincoln barely a month before the assassination was carried out. This leaves me to wonder that if Kennedy hadn't been caught for the arson in New York would he have also been with Booth on April 14, 1865?)
To read the entire front-page coverage of this event in The New York Heraldclick here

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RAY CHARLES: LOOKING BACK

As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.


"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.


Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.


Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.


Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.


He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.


Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."



Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.




For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.


Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."


Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

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