Thomas Etholen Selfridge

Thomas Etholen Selfridge (February 8, 1882 – September 17, 1908) was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane. He was a passenger on an aircraft piloted by Orville Wright.

Selfridge took his first flight on December 6, 1907, on Alexander Graham Bell's tetrahedral kite, the Cygnet, made of 3,393 winged cells. It took him 168 feet in the air above Bras d'Or Lake in Nova Scotia, Canada, and flew for seven minutes. This was the first recorded flight carrying a passenger of any heavier-than-air craft in Canada.

In August 1908, the Army tentatively agreed to purchase an airplane from the Wright Brothers and had scheduled the acceptance trials in September. Selfridge, with an interest in both heavier-than-air and lighter-than-air ships, went to Fort Myer, to watch Orville Wright demonstrate the Wright Flyer for the US Army Signal Corps division, Selfridge arranged to be a passenger while Orville piloted the craft.

On September 17, 1908, the Wright Flyer circled Fort Myer 4½ times at 150 feet. Halfway through the fifth circuit, the right propeller broke, losing thrust. This set up a vibration, causing the split propeller to hit a guy wire bracing the rear vertical rudder. The wire tore out of its fastening and shattered the propeller; the rudder swiveled to the horizontal and sent the Flyer into a nose-dive. Orville shut off the engine and managed to glide to about 75 feet, but the Flyer hit the ground nose first.

When the craft hit the ground, both Selfridge and Wright were thrown against the remaining wires. Selfridge was thrown against one of the wooden uprights of the framework, and his skull was fractured. He underwent neurosurgery but died that evening without regaining consciousness. He was 26.

Orville suffered severe injuries, including a broken left thigh, several broken ribs and a damaged hip, and was hospitalized for seven weeks. Selfridge was not wearing any headgear, while Wright was only wearing a cap, as two existing photographs taken before the flight prove. If Selfridge had been wearing a helmet of some sort, he most likely would have survived the crash. As a result of Selfridge's death, the US Army's first pilots wore large heavy headgear reminiscent of early football helmets.

Thomas Selfridge is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; which is adjacent to Fort Myer.

Our national anthem as a drinking song

Francis Scott Key (Above)was familiar with a popular drinking ditty that was so difficult to sing that it was used as an 18th century sobriety test. He converted the song into our national anthem, translating “And swear by old Styx, that we long shall entwine, the myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’ vine” into “Oh, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave, Ore the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Borrowed from a popular melody was common practice at the time, there was no copyright protection after all and popular melodies, were used and reused over and over again as a political song, a hymn, march tune, a drinking song, or a country dance etc.

The song used to create out national anthem dates from the mid-1770s and it was composed for a group of Londoners who had formed a social club that meet every other week in the winter. The meetings included a formal concert, a dinner, and a social time afterwards during which the members entertained each other by singing catches, glees, and amusing songs.

One of the club’s founders, Ralph Tomlinson (1744–1778), wrote the words in 1776, at about the same time he became president of the club.

To Anacreon in Heaven, where he sat in full glee,

A few sons of harmony sent a petition,

That he their inspirer and patron should be.

When this answer arrived from that jolly old Grecian:

Voice, fiddle and flute no longer be mute,

I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot,

And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine

The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine."

Anacreon was a Greek poet who was born about 572 B.C. Anacreon wrote extensively about women and wine, and that was his main attraction to the London gentlemen.  The name of the club became “The Anacreontic Society”, in honor of ‘that jolly old Grecian.’ 
And the title of the new song came from the opening line of the poem, “To Anacreon in Heaven”, John Stafford Smith wrote the music. He was not a member of the club but was the organist at the Chapel Royal. Tomlinson may have commissioned him to write the tune for his new lyrics.

By 1798 the song made its way to the states and was used in a tune  called “Adams and Liberty—The Boston Patriotic Song.” And Thomas Jefferson was elected, another set of lyrics to the tune was entitled “Jefferson and Liberty.”

“Star Spangled Banner” become our national anthem officially in 1931.



On January 30, 1835, as President Andrew Jackson walked out of the Capitol building’s east portico after attending the funeral of U.S. Representative Warren Davis. At that same moment a man named Richard Lawrence, an unemployed house painter from England who suffered from mental defects, calmly walked up to the President, pulled out a pistol, aimed  and fired at Jackson. The gun misfired and Lawrence pulled out another pistol and fired, but that too, misfired, probably due to the heavy humidity.

Lawrence was then severely beaten by the notoriously ill-tempered Jackson who whipped the man repeatedly with his thick walking stick until he was pulled away by his aides. The man was then taken away by three members of Congress that included Davy Crockett.

Under arrest, Lawrence told doctors that he tried to kill Jackson because it was his fault he could not find work as a house painter and with Jackson dead, the economy would improve. He also said that he was the deposed English King Richard III (Who had died two almost four hundred years before) He was diagnosed as insane and committed to an insane asylum for the rest of his life.

In an early attempt on Jackson’s life, the first attempt to assassinate a sitting US President, happened on May 6, 1833 by a man named Robert B. Randolph, whom Jackson had tossed out of the US Navy for embezzling pay role monies.  On May 6, Jackson arrived to the port at Alexandria to take a ship to Fredericksburg to pay homage to Mary Ball Washington. However, Randolph rushed from a crowd and punched Jackson and ran. He was chased down bystanders (Including Washington Irving) captured and arrested but Jackson dropped the charges.

In August of 1864, President Abe Lincoln was riding in his carriage through downtown Washington, when someone, it isn’t known who, fired a shot that put a bullet hole through the President stove-hat but missed him.  Had Lincoln been killed, the government would have fallen into the hands of the wildly inept Vice President Hannibal Hamlin.

A spend thrift of the people’s money for his own comforts and noted for his political cronyism, Hamlin had been picked by the Republican Party because the Lincoln ticket needed an East Coast politician to balance the Midwestern Lincoln. Before his nomination, Hamlin had never met Lincoln.

During most of his time in office as Vice President, Hamlin spent most of his time with his family in his native Maine, yet he had the nerve to complain to his wife that he was "the most unimportant man in Washington, ignored by the President, the cabinet, and Congress." Lincoln dropped Hamlin from his ticket when he ran for a second term.

Tom Hanks

Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s father and mother were named Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. Actor Tom Hanks is a direct descendant from Abraham Lincoln through his mother’s side, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.


The death of Abe Lincoln

The price of tickets for the production of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre the night of the Lincoln assassination was were Orchestra (main level, chair seating) $1.00, Dress Circle (first balcony, chair seating) $.75, Family Circle (second balcony, bench seating) $.50.

On the day before he went to Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865, Lincoln is quoted as saying to his bodyguard,  William H. Crook (above) “Crook, do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it …. I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it.”
Fifteen people turned down President Lincoln’s invitation to join him and Mary Todd Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination, April 14, 1865.  It was good
Friday of the Easter weekend, and most people had plans.  Another factor, probably, was Mary Todd Lincoln’s erratic and spiteful behavior to almost everyone who came near her husband.  (In 1875, Mary was committed to an insane asylum by her only surviving son, Robert Lincoln.)

 The fifteen people who turned down the Lincoln’s were Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Stanton, General & Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, William A. Howard, General Isham N. Haynie, Richard J. Olgesby, Richard Yates, Noah Brooks, Thomas Eckert, George Ashmun, Schuyler Colfax, Mr.  & Mrs. William H. Wallace & Robert Lincoln.

Edwin Stanton (Above) was Lincoln’s Secretary of War probably refused to go because his wife could not get along with Mrs. Lincoln.  The Grants were already booked aboard a train to leave Washington to spend time with their children in New Jersey.  But, again, Mrs. Grant also disliked Mrs. Lincoln and that may have been the actual reason for turning down the first couple.

Postmaster William A. Howard was leaving the city to return to his native Detroit.

General Isham N. Haynie and Richard J. Olgesby had already made plans to entertain friends that evening.  Noah Brooks, a reporter, was sick with the flu.  Thomas Eckert a telegraph operator at the War Department refused because he was overworked.  George Ashmun had a previous engagement, as did Speaker of the House of Representatives
Shuyler Colfax.  Mr. and Mrs. William H. Wallace, the Governor of Idaho territories, claimed to be too tired to attend the play that evening.  Robert Lincoln, the President’s eldest son, had just returned from a tour of duty with General Grant and was tired.

The contents of Lincoln’s pockets from the night of the assassination are housed at the Library of Congress. Some of these items included newspaper clippings, spectacle and reading glasses and their cases, a pocket knife and even a Confederate five dollar bill.

Tad Lincoln (above, the President’s youngest son) was at another theatre the night his father was shot. Tad was attending a performance of “Aladdin or the Wonderful Lamp” at Grover’s Theatre. Attending with him was his tutor, who had the news of the shooting whispered to him. The tutor rushed Tad out of the theatre and took him back home to the White House.

Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, the couple who attended the play at Ford’s Theatre with the Lincoln’s had a tragic ending. On July 11, 1867, the Rathbone’s were married. Rathbone eventually started to have severe mood swings and in 1883, while the family was living in Germany, Rathbone tried to murder his children. He then shot and stabbed his wife to death. He also tried to kill himself but failed.  He was found insane and sent to an asylum for the rest of his life.

The last surviving person who was in Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination was Samuel J. Seymour (of Easton Md.) who died at age 96 on April 14, 1956, exactly 91 years to the day that the assassination took place. Seymour was 5 years old when his godmother, Mrs. George S. Goldsborough, took him to see Our American Cousin. They sat in the Dress Circle facing opposite the Presidential box and witnessed the assassination and Booth’s leap to the stage.

On April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s autopsy was performed in the 2nd floor guest room at the front right hand corner (northwest corner) of the White House. Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be embalmed. Over one million people viewed the Presidents body during the open casket viewings as the train carrying his body rolled across the country to take the corpse to Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois for burial.  As early as the New York observers noticed that Lincoln’s face was showing signs of blackening and discoloration. For the remainder of the trip, undertakers would frequently apply white chalk powder, rouge and amber makeup to make the President appear as normal as possible.

There is a medical debate that started in the 1960′s about whether Mr. Lincoln had Marfan Syndrome.  The syndrome is an inherited disorder of connective tissue People with Marfan syndrome tend to have long limbs and are usually, but not always, tall. The syndrome can also cause spine problems, abnormally-shaped chest, and loose joints.

The diagnosis was based on physical observations of Lincoln: the fact that he was much taller than most men of his day, with long limbs, an abnormally-shaped chest, and loose (lax) joints (based on written descriptions).

 Lincoln had two Life Masks made of his face (and one set of his hands). One was made  in 1860 by Leonard Volk just prior to Lincoln’s nomination for President and the other was made by Clark Mills on February 11, 1865 just two months prior to his assassination.

Four soldiers of the Veteran Reserve Corps were assigned the duty of springing the traps that hung the Lincoln conspirators. On a signal from executioner Christian Rath, the posts were knocked out by the men,  springing the trap doors. One of the men was Private William Coxshall who later said of the incident “I became nauseated, what with the heat and waiting, and taking hold of the supporting post, I hung on and vomited”.

In 1876, Lincoln’s body was almost the victim of a grave robbing plot.  On November 7, 1876, a group of Chicago counterfeiters attempted to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom and the release of one of their incarcerated members (their engraver)

The long and short of it


Mary Ann Todd Lincoln, the wife of the president was only 5′-2″ tall. Abe was just under 6′-4″ tall, a difference of 14 inches.

Near useless facts about Abe Lincoln

Lincoln was once challenged to a duel and he accepted. The man who issued the challenge later dropped it and the duel never happened. Lincoln spoke in a high pitched voice with a Kentucky accent. Lincoln never traveled to a foreign country. Abe Lincoln wore reading glasses.  He was the first President to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. He issued the proclamation on October 3, 1863.  Lincoln’s bed was oversized to accommodate his lengthy body. The bed was 9′-0″ long and 9′-0″ high to the top of the headboard. Lincoln could play the Jews’ harp


Robert Todd Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, lived until 1926.  He was present on May 30, 1922 at the dedication ceremony for the Lincoln Memorial.  Robert is also related to a series of strange coincidences that related to Presidential assassinations.

Robert Todd at the memorial (Far right)

He was invited to accompany his parents to the Ford’s Theatre the night his father was shot and killed. 
He was also at the Sixth Street Train Station in D.C., when President Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881 and was an eyewitness to the event.  Robert was serving as Garfield’s Secretary of War at the time.

He was also present at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when President William McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz on September 6, 1901, though he was not an eyewitness to the event.”

In 1863 or 1864, Robert fell onto the railroad tracks at a New Jersey train station and was saved by Edwin Booth, (above) John Wilkes older brother.

He died in 1926, was not buried with Abraham Lincoln, his mother, and three brothers. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Interesting but of no national value

President Washington was the wealthiest man in American at the time of his election as President, but he had to borrow money to attend his inauguration. His enormous wealth was attributed the vast property that he owned which produced almost no cash flow.

 John Tyler, who was President from 1841 to 1845, joined the Confederacy twenty years later and became the only President named a sworn enemy of the United States.

 President Andrew Jackson believed the world was flat

FDR was so superstitious, that he would never leave town on a Friday and never sit at a table with 13 people.

Franklin Roosevelt was related to Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and even his own wife, Eleanor, a second cousin. Although the relationship with the Roosevelt's was an uncomfortable situation for many people, there was stranger twist to the First Couples marriage. For 30 plus years, from 1932 on, Eleanor Roosevelt had an affair with another woman, Associated Press reporter Lenora Hickok. Eleanor wrote well over 2,300 passionate love letters to Hicky which Hicky saved on the condition that they not be published until 10 years after Eleanor's death.

President Atchison

A man named David Rice Atchison was President of the United States for one day and didn't even know it. According to the law at the time, if neither the President nor the Vice President were in office, the President Pro Tem of the Senate (Atchinson) became President. On March 4, 1849, President Polk's term had expired and President-elect Taylor could not yet be sworn in because it was a Sunday. Atchinson did not realize that he had been President for a day until several months later. The law that made Atchinson President for a day has since been changed.

Now there's a talent you don't see everyday

President Garfield could write in Latin with one hand and in Greek with the other... simultaneously

Road problems


Ulysses S. Grant was convicted of exceeding the speed limit while riding with his horse in the streets of Washington, D.C. late one night. The accusing police officer was reluctant to issue the $20 fine when he realized that the offender was President Grant, but Grant insisted the he be fined.

President Franklin Pierce was arrested during his term as President for running over an old lady with his horse, but the charges were later dropped.

Draft dodger


President Grover Cleveland was a draft dodger. He hired someone to enter the service in his place. He was ridiculed by his political opponent, James Blaine, but it was soon discovered that Blaine had done the same thing himself

Its all a matter of good PR

George Washington was not the first President of the United States. The first President, John Hanson, was Maryland's representative at the Continental Congress. On November 5, 1781, Hanson, who is considered a black man because of his Moorish background, was elected by the Constitutional Congress to the office of "President of the United States in Congress Assembled." He served for one year and was followed by 6 other Presidents before Washington was elected.

July 4

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day: July 4, 1826. Jefferson's last words were: "Is it the fourth?"

Maybe they were trying to kill Robert

Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abe Lincoln, was present at the assassinations of three Presidents: his father's, President Garfield's and President McKinley's. After the last shooting, he refused to attend any State affairs. He would not have been present at these events if it hadn't been for the brother of John Wilkes Booth, who saved his life years earlier.

If it wasn't for bad luck, he would have no luck at all

Iconic black and white photograph of Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

When Abe Lincoln was 22, his business failed. When he was 23, he lost a bid for U.S. Congress. When he was 24, he failed in business again. The following year, he was elected to the state legislature. When he was 26, his sweetheart died. At age 27, he had a nervous breakdown. When he was 29, he was defeated for the post of Speaker of the House in the state legislature. When he was 31, he was defeated as Elector. When he was 34, he ran for Congress again and lost. At the age of 37, he ran for Congress yet again and finally won, but two years later he lost his re-election campaign. At the age of 46, he ran for a U.S. Senate seat and lost. The following year he ran for Vice President and lost. Finally, at the age of 51, he was elected President of the United States during a civil war and was killed in office.