Oliver Stone’s JFK examined the possible government cover-up of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy through the eyes of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), who in 1967 filed charges against businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones) for his alleged involvement in the conspiracy. The film earned eight Oscar nominations, and lots of controversy, with some criticizing Stone for misleading moviegoers with false information. Here are some facts about the movie that can be seen through the looking glass.
1. OLIVER STONE WAS GIVEN JIM GARRISON’S BOOK IN AN ELEVATOR IN CUBA.
Stone was in Havana in 1988 to accept an award at the Latin American Film Festival when Ellen Ray, the publisher of Garrison’s book On the Trail of the Assassins, gave him a copy. He read it while in the Philippines working on Born on the Fourth of July and was enthralled. Stone bought the rights to the book, as well as the rights to Jim Marrs' Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy, and hired Garrison’s editor, Zachary Sklar, to help him write the screenplay.
2. STONE WAS SECRETIVE WITH THE SCRIPT.
Stone sold the script to Warner Bros., despite his belief that he could have made a better deal elsewhere. "I didn't want the script going all over the world to be bid on and read," Stone told the Los Angeles Times. "I knew the material was dangerous and I wanted one entity to finance the whole thing."
3. HARRISON FORD AND MEL GIBSON TURNED DOWN THE LEAD.
Ford was taking a break from acting, and Gibson and Stone shared a “strained” dinner meeting. Kevin Costner agreed to the role for $7 million, plus a percentage of the box office.
4. COSTNER MET GARRISON'S REAL ENEMIES.
The actor met both Garrison’s fans and his critics. "I wanted Costner to get both sides, to witness the hatred and extremism that Jim engenders and as an actor to look into the eyes of his enemies and know what he was up against back then," explained Stone. "These were tough people and they'd come in a parade in front of Costner with their New Orleans accent saying that Jim's a snake—that he liked boys and was angry that Shaw stole his lover and a lot worse."
5. THE REAL JIM GARRISON PLAYED CHIEF JUSTICE EARL WARREN.
On September 24, 1964, the Warren Commission determined that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Garrison saw the movie before he passed away in 1992 and was, according to Stone, a “very happy man.”
6. STONE WANTED MARLON BRANDO FOR X.
Donald Sutherland ended up playing the mysterious figure. Stone realized in retrospect that Brando would have made the already long dialogue of X’s “15 times longer” anyway.
7. FRANK WHALEY WAS SET TO PLAY LEE HARVEY OSWALD.
Frank Whaley—who had worked with Stone on The Doors, which was released in March of 1991—insisted he was promised the part by Stone. He found out that Gary Oldman won the role when he was waiting for a movie to begin, reading a free magazine provided by the movie theater. "I just was so f**king heartbroken, because I was really anxious to play that role and to work with Oliver again," Whaley told The A.V. Club. Stone later apologized and cast him as the Oswald impersonator in the film. A couple years later, Whaley got to play Oswald in the 1993 made-for-TV movie Fatal Deception: Mrs. Lee Harvey Oswald.
8. BEATA POZNIAK LIVED WITH MARINA OSWALD FOR TWO MONTHS.
To prepare for her U.S. screen debut as Oswald’s widow, the Polish actress befriended Marina and the two spent some time as roommates.
9. POZNIAK AND OLDMAN IMPROVISED THEIR FIGHTS.
The script simply read, “Lee and Marina have a fight.” Stone met with the two actors and asked them what they thought the scene was about. Pozniak said it was like working on a theater production more than a movie.
10. WAYNE KNIGHT AND STONE CLASHED OVER HIS ACCENT.
Wayne Knight (Seinfeld's Newman) used an accent he heard growing up in northwest Georgia for his audition as Numa Bertel, which Stone loved. But Knight discovered upon meeting the real, New Orleans-born Bertel that he didn’t sound like that at all. Knight insisted on using Bertel’s real accent in the film, though it took a while to convince Stone. "He’s rough trade, that man," Knight told The A.V. Club of Stone.
11. COSTNER INSISTED THAT JOHN CANDY NOT BE CUT.
John Candy was “devastated” when he heard his role as lawyer Dean Andrews was being cut from JFK, so Costner intervened. Stone wrote a letter to Candy apologizing for considering taking his nervous, sweaty character out of the movie.
12. COSTNER ALMOST RUINED A TAKE BECAUSE HE WAS LOOKING AT A SNAKE BEING KILLED.
Kevin Bacon and Costner were shooting a scene at Angola prison when Costner broke eye contact to watch a crew member use a machete to hack a snake to death.
13. THERE WAS EXPENSIVE ATTENTION TO DETAIL.
Kennedy’s Oval Office was reconstructed from archival footage, at a cost of $70,000. It was seen for only eight seconds. In black and white. Stone also spent $4 million to restore Dealey Plaza to its 1963 form. Dallas police had to reroute traffic and close streets for three weeks.
The exterior of the Texas Theatre, where Oswald was arrested, was also remodeled to look like it did back in 1963, thanks to permission from the Texas Theatre Historical Society.
14. X WAS BASED ON L. FLETCHER PROUTY AND RICHARD CASE NAGELL.
Prouty was an Air Force officer who served in the Pentagon, and former aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He believed heavily in a conspiracy. Nagell claimed to be a CIA agent to Garrison and claimed he knew Kennedy was going to be killed before it happened.
15. X WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO RETURN AT THE VERY END OF THE MOVIE.
But Stone realized it didn’t work. Because some of the dialogue meant for the coda was important, it was edited in over the black and white flashbacks and documentary footage, combining X’s two scenes into one.
16. THE FIRST CUT WAS FOUR AND A HALF HOURS LONG.
Stone said he had to leave “a lot more Shaw stuff” on the cutting room floor, as well as Jim almost getting set up in a men’s airport restroom, and “a wonderful scene” with a “Johnny Carson-type.” (The real Garrison appeared on The Tonight Show with Carson in 1968.) Oldman also recalled a cut fantasy sequence where Oswald looked straight into the camera and said he was innocent.
17. THE FILM WAS ATTACKED BEFORE IT CAME OUT.
Dan Rather, The Washington Post, and The New York Times all said or published negative things about the movie, based on the screenplay alone. Newsweek’s cover read: “The Twisted Truth of JFK: Why Oliver Stone's New Movie Can't Be Trusted." Stone called the experience “distressing.”
18. IT LED TO THE JFK RECORDS ACT OF 1992.
The Act was unanimously signed by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, precipitated by the public’s reaction to the movie. It stated all records on the incident were to be eventually disclosed, which hasn’t happened thanks to the CIA.
Monday, January 15, 2018, marks what would have been the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the federal holiday created in recognition of the Atlanta native, who became one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement. Signed by President Reagan in 1983, the holiday marked the culmination of efforts that began just four days after King’s assassination in 1968, when Representative John Conyers of Michigan began 15 years of introducing and reintroducing a bill to establish the holiday. (Stevie Wonder joined the chorus of Americans backing Conyers' efforts; in 1980 he wrote the song "Happy Birthday" to help create a groundswell of support.)
While it would be impossible to encompass everything King accomplished in a mere list, we’ve compiled a few intriguing facts that may pique your interest in finding out more about the man who helped unite a divided nation.
1. MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS NOT HIS GIVEN NAME.
One of the most recognizable proper names of the 20th century wasn't actually what was on the birth certificate. The future civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929, named after his father Michael King. When the younger King was 5 years old, his father decided to change both their names after learning more about 16th century theologian Martin Luther, who was one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. Inspired by that battle, Michael King soon began referring to himself and his son as Martin Luther King.
2. HE WAS A DOCTOR OF THEOLOGY.
Using the prefix "doctor" to refer to King has become a reflex, but not everyone is aware of the origin of King’s Ph.D. He attended Boston University and graduated in 1955 with a doctorate in systematic theology. King also had a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary.
3. HE TOOK 30 TRIPS TO JAIL.
Dr. King leading a march from Selma, Alabama to its capital, Montgomery, in March 1965.
A powerful voice for an ignored and suppressed minority, opponents tried to silence King the old-fashioned way: incarceration. In the 12 years he spent as the recognized leader of the civil rights movement, King was arrested and jailed 30 times. Rather than brood, King used the unsolicited downtime to further his cause. Jailed in Birmingham for eight days in 1963, he penned "Letter from Birmingham Jail," a long treatise responding to the oppression supported by white religious leaders in the South.
"I'm afraid that it is much too long to take your precious time," he wrote. "I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?"
4. THE FBI TRIED TO COERCE HIM INTO SUICIDE.
King's increasing prominence and influence agitated many of his enemies, but few were more powerful than FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. For years, Hoover kept King under surveillance, worried that this subversive could sway public opinion against the bureau and fretting that King might have Communist ties. While there's still debate about how independently Hoover's deputy William Sullivan was acting, an anonymous letter was sent to King in 1964 accusing him of extramarital affairs and threatening to disclose his indiscretions. The only solution, the letter suggested, would be for King to exit the civil rights movement, either willingly or by taking his own life. King ignored the threat and continued his work.
5. A SINGLE SNEEZE COULD HAVE ALTERED HISTORY FOREVER.
Our collective memory of King always has an unfortunate addendum: his 1968 assassination that brought an end to his personal crusade against social injustice. But if Izola Ware Curry had her way, King’s mission would have ended 10 years earlier. At a Harlem book signing in 1958, Ware approached King and plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest, nearly puncturing his aorta. Surgery was needed to remove it. Had King so much as sneezed, doctors said, the wound was so close to his heart that it would have been fatal. Curry, a 42-year-old black woman, was having paranoid delusions about the NAACP that soon crystallized around King. She was committed to an institution and died in 2015.
6. HE GOT A "C" IN PUBLIC SPEAKING.
King’s promise as one of the great orators of his time was late in coming. While attending Crozer Theological Seminary from 1948 to 1951, King’s marks were diluted by C and C+ grades in two terms of public speaking.
7. HE WON A GRAMMY.
At the 13th annual Grammy Awards in 1971, a recording of King’s 1967 address, "Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam," took home a posthumous award for Best Spoken Word recording. In 2012, his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (it was included decades later because its 1969 nomination was beaten for the Spoken Word prize by Rod McKuen's "Lonesome Cities").
8. HE LOVED STAR TREK.
It’s not easy to imagine King having the time or inclination to sit down and watch primetime sci-fi on television, but according to actress Nichelle Nichols, King and his family made an exception for Star Trek. In 1967, the actress met King, who told her he was a big fan and urged her to reconsider her decision to leave the show to perform on Broadway. "My family are your greatest fans," Nichols recalled King telling her, and said he continued with, "As a matter of fact, this is the only show on television that my wife Coretta and I will allow our little children to watch, to stay up and watch because it's on past their bedtime." Nichols' character of Lt. Uhura, he said, was important because she was a strong, professional black woman. If Nichols left, King noted, the character could be replaced by anyone, since "[Uhura] is not a black role. And it's not a female role." Based on their talk, Nichols decided to remain on the show for the duration of its three-season original run.
9. HE SPENT HIS WEDDING NIGHT IN A FUNERAL PARLOR.
When King married his wife, Coretta, in her father’s backyard in 1953, there was virtually no hotel in Marion, Alabama that would welcome a newlywed black couple. A friend of Coretta's happened to be an undertaker, and invited the Kings into one of the guest rooms at his funeral parlor.
10. RONALD REAGAN WAS OPPOSED TO A KING HOLIDAY.
Despite King's undeniable worthiness, MLK Day was not a foregone conclusion. In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan largely ignored pleas to pass legislation making the holiday official out of the concern it would open the door for other minority groups to demand their own holidays; Senator Jesse Helms complained that the missed workday could cost the country $12 billion in lost productivity, and both were concerned about King’s possible Communist sympathies. Common sense prevailed, and the bill was signed into law on November 2, 1983. The holiday officially began being recognized in January 1986.
11. WE'LL SOON SEE HIM ON THE $5 BILL.
In 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced plans to overhaul major denominations of currency beginning in 2020. Along with Harriet Tubman adorning the $20 bill, plans call for the reverse side of the $5 Lincoln-stamped bill to commemorate "historic events that occurred at the Lincoln Memorial" including King’s famous 1963 speech..
12. ONE OF KING'S VOLUNTEERS WALKED AWAY WITH A PIECE OF HISTORY.
King’s 1963 oration from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, known as the "I Have a Dream" speech, will always be remembered as one of the most provocative public addresses ever given. George Raveling, who was 26 at the time, had volunteered to help King and his team during the event. When it was over, Raveling sheepishly asked King for the copy of the three-page speech. King handed it over without hesitation; Raveling kept it for the next 20 years before he fully understood its historical significance and removed it from the book he had been storing it in.
He’s turned down offers of up to $3.5 million, insisting that the document will remain in his family—always noting that the most famous passage, where King details his dream of a united nation, isn't on the sheet. It was improvised.
When the Revolutionary War broke out, Benedict Arnold became one of America’s first military heroes. But within a few short years, patriots were comparing him unfavorably to the man who betrayed Jesus. As a disgusted Benjamin Franklin wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette, “Judas sold only one man, Arnold three millions [sic].”
That Arnold defected to the British army in 1780 is common knowledge. But before he switched allegiances, Arnold engineered some crucial victories for the colonist rebels and, by all accounts, led a pretty interesting life. Here are a few things you might not have known about one of America's most notorious traitors, who was born on this day in 1741.
1. HE WAS DESCENDED FROM RHODE ISLAND’S FIRST COLONIAL GOVERNOR.
Arnold was born on January 14, 1741 in Norwich, Connecticut—the fifth person in his family to be named Benedict Arnold. Among others, he shared the name with his father and great grandfather, the latter of whom was the first governor of the Rhode Island colony under the 1663 Royal Charter. A wealthy and respected landowner, he would intermittently remain governor until his death. He was laid to rest at a Newport cemetery that now bears his name: Arnold Burying Ground.
2. ARNOLD FOUGHT IN AT LEAST ONE DUEL.
Though he apprenticed at a druggists, and, as an adult, set up a profitable general store in New Haven, Arnold eventually decided to get into the shipping industry, purchasing three merchant vessels by the time he turned 26. He used the boats to trade goods in Canada and the West Indies. (The ventures would later give him a healthy disdain for British tax policies; to get around them, he—like many of his countrymen—ultimately turned to smuggling.) It was while traveling for business that Arnold would get into a disagreement that led to a duel.
On a trip to the Bay of Honduras, Arnold received an invitation to a get-together from a British captain named Croskie. Distracted by an upcoming voyage, Arnold forgot to respond and wound up missing the party. Hoping to smooth things over, Arnold paid Croskie a visit the next morning and apologized. The Brit was having none of it. Irked by Arnold’s apparent rudeness, Croskie called him “a damned Yankee destitute of good manners of those of a gentleman.” Now it was the New Englander’s turn to get offended. His honor impugned, Arnold challenged Croskie to a duel. In the showdown that resulted, the captain fired first—and missed. Then Arnold took aim. With a well-placed shot, he grazed Croskie, whose wound was taken care of by an on-site surgeon. Arnold called Croskie back to the field and proclaimed, “I give you notice, if you miss this time I shall kill you.” Not wishing to risk any further injuries, the British seaman offered an apology. This incident represents the only duel that Arnold is known to have participated in—although some historians believe he may have emerged victorious from one or two others.
3. HE INSPIRED A MINOR HOLIDAY BY COMMANDEERING BRITISH GUNPOWDER.
On April 19, 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord broke out in eastern Massachusetts, marking the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Three days later, Benedict Arnold led New Haven’s local militia—the Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard—to the city’s powder house, where its supply of emergency gunpowder was stored. He was met at the front door by the local selectmen and demanded the keys. At first they resisted, but it soon became clear that Arnold would be willing to force his way into the building if necessary. “None but the Almighty God shall prevent my marching!” he warned. Faced with the prospect of violence, the selectmen handed over the keys. The Second Company then rounded up all of the available gunpowder and began a march to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where they rendezvoused with other rebel troops.
Since 1904, New Haven has been commemorating this chapter in its history with an annual Powder House Day celebration. Every spring, a reenactment of the standoff between Arnold and those selectmen takes place on the steps of City Hall. There, members of the Second Company Governor’s Foot Guard (which still exists) arrive in historically accurate regalia led by a member who plays Arnold himself.
4. HE TOOK PART IN A FAILED ATTEMPT TO CAPTURE CANADA.
Arnold made a name for himself by joining forces with Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys to capture Fort Ticonderoga on the New York side of Lake Champlain in May 1775. That fall, George Washington tapped him to lead a military expedition into Quebec. At the time, many Americans believed—falsely—that their Canadian neighbors would be willing to help them overthrow the British. Brigadier General Richard Montgomery and his men were sent to Montreal by way of the Champlain valley. Meanwhile, Arnold (by that time a Colonel) was given command of a second force that was to proceed upwards through Maine before attacking Quebec City.
This campaign wasn’t exactly Arnold’s finest hour. For starters, he’d been given a wildly inaccurate map of the area which led him to underestimate the distance between Maine and his destination. Since the trek took more time than Arnold had bargained for, his force inevitably depleted its food supply along the way. As a result, many of the men resorted to eating dogs, squirrel heads, and even leather. Severe storms and equipment-destroying flash floods did not help matters.
By the time Arnold finally reached Quebec City on November 8, 1775, the force of around 1100 he’d started out with had been whittled down to less than 600. That December, Montgomery and his men—who’d already captured Montreal—met up with Arnold’s demoralized group outside of Quebec City. On the final day of 1775, the Americans attacked. Montgomery was killed in the fray, more than 400 American soldiers were captured, and a splintering musket ball nearly cost Arnold his left leg. Despite this and other setbacks, the invaders from down south remained in Quebec until 10,000 British troops—accompanied by German mercenaries—arrived to force them out in May 1776.
5. AN ARNOLD-LED NAVAL FLEET THWARTED A MAJOR BRITISH ADVANCE.
Having driven Arnold and company from Canada, the Brits decided to go in for the kill. After advancing down to the northern shores of Lake Champlain, General Sir Guy Carleton ordered his men to construct a fleet of new ships from existing parts and available timber. Meanwhile, Arnold and General Horatio Gates set up shop in Skenesborough, located at the lake’s southern end. The Americans got to work building new ships of their own, which would sail alongside four vessels that Arnold and the Green Mountain Boys had captured in 1775. The stage was set for a naval clash that would have profound implications for the rest of the war.
On October 11, 1776, Arnold led the 15-ship American fleet into battle against Carleton’s newly-finished squadron of well-armed war vessels, which was making a beeline for Fort Ticonderoga. Concealing his forces in the strait between Valcour Island and the lake’s western banks, Arnold was able to catch the British off-guard—momentarily, anyway. Despite this sneak attack, Carleton’s superior weaponry took out 11 of Arnold’s ships, killing or capturing 200 rebels. But from a strategic standpoint, the confrontation worked out well for the colonies because it thwarted the General’s primary goal: recapturing Ticonderoga and then funneling Royal troops across the Champlain. The Battle of Valcour Island—along with all the ship-building that had preceded it—kept him busy until winter arrived. By November, the lake had started freezing over, which prompted Carleton to head back to Canada, where he and his men would remain until spring. His temporary retreat gave the Americans some desperately-needed time to prepare for Britain’s next invasion from the north.
In 1777, General John Burgoyne led 8000 troops down the Champlain Valley. At the Battles of Saratoga, the American forces were able to overwhelm them, forcing the General to surrender his army. More than anything else, it was this surprise victory that inspired France to enter the fray on the rebels’ behalf.
According to Alfred T. Mahan, a naval historian, “That the Americans were strong enough to impose the capitulation of Saratoga was due to the invaluable year of delay secured to them in 1776 by their little navy on Lake Champlain, created by the indomitable energy, and handled with the indomitable courage of the traitor, Benedict Arnold.” Arnold was injured at Saratoga when a bullet went through his leg and killed his horse, which then fell on and crushed the injured limb—the same one that had been wounded in Quebec. The Major General spent three months in the hospital; his leg never fully recovered and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
6. HE SIGNED A LOYALTY OATH AT VALLEY FORGE.
In 1778, the Continental Congress made an attempt to weed out any closet loyalists that might be in its midst by forcing the army’s enlisted men and officers to sign standardized loyalty oaths—which they were also expected to read aloud before a witness. Arnold was presented with a copy when he visited Washington in Valley Forge that May. With no reported hesitation, Arnold recited and signed the document; the event was witnessed by Henry Knox, Washington’s future Secretary of War. Today, the signed agreement can be found at the National Archives.
7. ARNOLD SWITCHED SIDES IN PART BECAUSE HE FELT DISRESPECTED.
On June 18, 1778, after a nine-month occupation, British General Sir Henry Clinton and 15,000 troops withdrew from Philadelphia. (By relocating, Clinton hoped he might avoid any French ships that might visit the area.) Philadelphia, back under colonial control, needed a military commander; Washington picked Arnold, who would presumably be grateful for a post that wouldn’t tax his bad leg too much.
Philadelphia was a city known for its radicals, and Arnold was never able to make peace with them. Instead, Arnold found himself gravitating towards the more pro-British upper classes, where he met a charming young woman named Margaret “Peggy” Shippen. Although she was half his age and the daughter of a wealthy judge with strong connections to the British, he married her in 1779. (It was his second marriage; Arnold's first wife, Margaret Mansfield, died in 1775.) The marriage didn’t make Philadelphia’s new military commander the most popular guy around town. Arnold’s extravagant lifestyle also aroused the suspicions of many, and some suggested that he’d been using his position to fatten his wallet with black market goods. In 1779, he was court-martialed twice, largely on accusations of misusing government resources and illegal buying and selling.
Arnold was cleared of all significant charges, but the experience left him embittered and humiliated. The court-martials were just the latest entries in a long list of perceived slights. Throughout his military career, Arnold felt underappreciated by the Continental Congress, which seemed to constantly ignore him when doling out promotions or praise. On a deeper level, he’d grown increasingly pessimistic about the rebellion’s chances. So before 1779 ended, he used his new wife’s social circle to contact Clinton and the British spy John André. At some point in their correspondence, Arnold let it be known that he’d had enough of the colonies; he was now willing to switch sides—if the price was right.
Arnold started lobbying Washington to grant him command of West Point. On June 29, 1780, the founding father caved and handed over the post. The very next month, Arnold offered to surrender the fort to Clinton for the low price of £20,000 (about $4.7 million in 2017 dollars).
8. WHEN ARNOLD MADE HIS ESCAPE, WASHINGTON WAS EN ROUTE TO HIS HOUSE FOR SOME BREAKFAST.
Arnold arranged to meet with André face-to-face on the night of September 21, 1780. André arrived on the British sloop the HMS Vulture and was rowed to shore. At a location later known as Treason House, Arnold handed André papers that exposed West Point’s weaknesses and the two planned to part ways. But during the meeting, the Vulture had been bombarded by Americans and was forced to move, stranding André in rebel territory. He decided to make his own way to the British-occupied city of White Plains, New York, but along the way he was seized by American militia men who discovered the West Point plans tucked away in his shoe.
André was brought before Lieutenant Colonel John Jameson. Following the dictates of protocol, Jameson sent a letter about this strange man who’d been found with incriminating documents to ... Benedict Arnold. Meanwhile, the documents themselves were mailed to George Washington.
In an amazing coincidence, Washington had arranged to have breakfast at Arnold’s residence in southern New York on September 25, 1780. That very same morning, mere hours before Washington arrived, the turncoat received Jameson’s letter. In a frenzied panic, he dashed out of the house, found the Vulture, and hopped aboard. When Washington learned what had transpired, the normally reserved general shouted, “Arnold has betrayed us! Whom can we trust now?”
9. HE SAW PLENTY OF ACTION AS A BRITISH GENERAL.
Arnold’s involvement with the Revolutionary War didn’t end when he embarked on the Vulture. The British made him a brigadier general, and he captured Richmond, Virginia with 1600 loyalist troops on January 5, 1781. Amidst the carnage, Virginia’s then-governor—Thomas Jefferson—staged a massive evacuation. Arnold wrote to the exiled Sage of Monticello, offering to spare the city if the governor agreed to surrender its entire supply of tobacco. When Jefferson refused, the general’s men burned a number of buildings and looted 42 vessels’ worth of stolen goods.
Later that year, Arnold laid siege to his own home colony. Recognizing New London, Connecticut as a refuge for privateers—who routinely plundered British merchant ships—Arnold ordered his assembled force of British and Hessian soldiers to put over 140 of its buildings to the torch, along with numerous ships. For the rest of the country, this devastating assault became a rallying cry. At the battle of Yorktown, the Marquis de Lafayette fired up his men by telling them “Remember New London.”
But if Arnold thought these raids would earn him Great Britain’s respect or acclaim, he was sorely mistaken. When the war ended, this Connecticut Yankee-turned-redcoat general moved to London with his second wife and their children. To his dismay, Arnold learned that his adopted country distrusted him almost as much as his homeland now did. Although Britain continued to recognize him as a general, the U.K. repeatedly declined to give him any sort of major role in the military. Desperate for work, Arnold then attempted to join the British East India Company only to strike out yet again—a high-ranking employee turned him away by saying, “Although I am satisfied with the purity of your conduct, [most people] do not think so.”
10. HE’S BURIED NEXT TO A FISH TANK IN ENGLAND.
Arnold died on June 14, 1801. His body was laid to rest inside a crypt in the basement of St. Mary’s Church, Battersea in London, where Arnold and his family had been parishioners; Margaret and their daughter, Sophia, would also eventually be interred there. Strange as it may sound, their tomb is embedded in the wall of a Sunday School classroom. Right next to a whimsical goldfish tank, you can read the protruding headstone, which has an inscription that reads: “The Two Nations Whom he Served In Turn in the Years of their Enmity Have United in Enduring Friendship.”
The headstone was financed by the late Bill Stanley, a former state senator and proud native of Norwich, Connecticut who defended Arnold throughout his life. “He saved America before he betrayed it,” Stanley said. Heartbroken by the underwhelming elegy that for many years marked the general’s final resting place, Stanley personally spent $15,000 on the handsome new grave marker that sits there. When this was completed in 2004, the ex-state senator flew out to London with his immediate family and more than two dozen members of the Norwich Historical Society to watch the installation.