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Abraham Lincoln: Amazing Wrestler

This week we're running a series of posts by Matt Soniak about Abraham Lincoln's foray into forensic meteorology. If you missed the first installment yesterday, check it out.

In the summer of 1831, 22-year-old Abraham Lincoln arrived in New Salem, a small town along the Sangamon River in Menard County, Illinois. He had come there to work as a clerk for a man named Offut, a local store owner.

Offut liked Lincoln and tended to brag about the new clerk to his customers, claiming Lincoln could outrun or outfight any man in the county. Bill Clary, whose family was the namesake of a settlement southwest of town called Clary's Grove, was skeptical of Offut’s boasts. Clary’s Grove was known for a group of young toughs led by Jack Armstrong. Historian Benjamin Thomas called the Clary’s Grove Boys a “rough and boisterous, happy-go-lucky crowd” that “came to New Salem to drink, gossip, trade and play. Physical strength and courage were their ideals. In individual and free-for-all fights they had demonstrated their superiority over the boys from other settlements, and they ruled the town when they chose to.” Bill Clary figured that Lincoln couldn’t whip any of his boys, and certainly not Armstrong. Tired of Offut’s big talk, he told the shopkeeper to put his money where his mouth was and bet ten dollars that Jack Armstrong would prove to be “a better man than Lincoln” in a wrestling match.

Lincoln didn’t want to take part in the match, but he eventually gave in to Offut’s protests. The match took place in front of Offut’s store, and all of New Salem came out to watch and bet money, whiskey, knives and other property on the winner.

Most bettors backed Armstrong, but it was only a few minutes into the match when, according to attorney John T. Stuart, who was there to see the contest, Armstrong realized “he had got hold of the wrong customer.” The two young men wrestled hard, doing their best to throw the other, but both remained on their feet. Convinced he couldn’t throw Lincoln fairly, Armstrong tried to “foul” the clerk. The attempt at cheating enraged Lincoln and, putting his height and long arms to good use, he grabbed Armstrong by the throat, lifted him off the ground, and shook him out like a wet rag.

The rest of the Clary’s Grove Boys reportedly rushed Lincoln, kicking and punching his legs and torso in an effort to knock him down. Lincoln took the assault in stride, holding his ground and laughing as he was kicked. Eventually, everyone settled down. The boys stopped kicking and Lincoln let Armstrong go. The two men shook hands, Lincoln having proved to everyone in town that he had to courage and strength to “belong” in town. Armstrong later called Lincoln “the best fellow who ever broke into camp.” Many Lincoln historians have called the ordeal one of the defining moments of Lincoln’s life.

Lincoln soon became close friends with Armstrong and his wife, Hannah. He often stayed at their home, where he split rails, helped the Clary’s Grove farmers with their work and even studied surveying so he could establish the lines of their lands.

When Lincoln heard about Duff's legal troubles from Hannah, he reached out to her. Despite the fact that he was busy preparing for his Senate campaign against Steven Douglas – and the fact that he was not well-practiced in criminal law, and had lost half of his one dozen murder trials – he offered to take Armstrong’s case pro bono.

He wrote to Hannah:

“Dear Mrs. Armstrong,

I have just heard of your deep affliction, and the arrest of your son for murder. I can hardly believe that he can be guilty of the crime alleged against him. It does not seem possible. I am anxious that he should have a fair trial, at any rate; and gratitude for your long continued kindness to me in adverse circumstances prompts me to offer my humble services gratuitously in his behalf. It will afford me an opportunity to requite, in a small degree, the favors I received at your hand, and that of your lamented husband, when your roof afforded me grateful shelter without money and without price.

Yours truly,

Abraham Lincoln.

Hannah Armstrong drove to Springfield to consult Lincoln and see if he could get Duff out on bail before his trial. Lincoln tried, but could not secure his friend's release. Lincoln and Mrs. Armstrong went to the county jail to see Duff and tell him he’d have to sit tight until his trial started the next spring. There, Mrs. Armstrong met Duff’s cellmate, a former schoolteacher serving a sentence for larceny. He proposed to her that if she bought him a new pair of glasses and some books to pass his time, he would teach Duff how to read while he awaited trial. Mrs. Armstrong agreed, and the following May, a literate Duff Armstrong left the county lockup to be put on trial.

Check back tomorrow to hear about Lincoln's clever trial strategy.

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History
Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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Wikipedia/Public Domain

On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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entertainment
The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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