Sunday, September 19, 2021

Podcast Episode 17 - What's In A Dam Name

Herbert Hoover’s name was mud.

By 1930, the Great Depression was in full swing. Fortunes had been lost, savings had been wiped out, and four million Americans were unemployed (a rate of nearly nine percent). President Hoover was widely perceived as being tone-deaf to both the gravity of the economic catastrophe and the suffering of average Americans.

A lot of things got named for Herbert Hoover. “Hoovervilles” were the shanty towns built on the outskirts of cities where homeless unemployed men and their families lived. There was a big one right in New York’s Central Park. The nation’s largest Hooverville, in St. Louis, had an unofficial mayor and built its own churches and other institutions.

There were also “Hoover blankets” (sheets of old newspaper used as blankets), “Hoover flags (empty pockets turned out), “Hoover leather” (cardboard placed in the soles of shoes to cover the holes) and “Hoover wagons” (automobiles hooked to teams of horses, their engines removed).

There was also, awkwardly enough, Hoover Dam.

For more stories like this, check out The History's Trainwrecks Podcast at the links below and this episode in the embedded players:

For a great historical novel about the Hoover Dam, take a look at Ragtown by Kelly Stone Gamble. The first three episodes are free on Kindle Vella:



American Experience, “The Controversial Naming of the Dam.” Retrieved August 22, 2021 from

Gamble, Kelly Stone. “Ragtown.” Retrieved September 19, 2021 from

Wikipedia, “Herbert Hoover.” Retrieved August 22, 2021 from

Wikipedia, “Hoover Dam.” Retrieved August 22, 2021 from

Wikipedia, “Hooverville.” Retrieved August 22, 2021 from

Podcast Episode 16 - Teddy Roosevelt's Third Term. Part VII

The 1912 convention was not the Republican Party’s finest hour. Tensions were high as one of the party’s most beloved and successful leaders was pitted against a certain loser come the fall. Roosevelt’s fired-up supporters tried to drown out the proceedings with cheers of “Roosevelt! Roosevelt!” The speaker at the lectern said wearily, “You need not hesitate to cheer Roosevelt in my presence. I cheered him for seven years, and I am just trying to take a day off, that is all.”

Screaming matches and fistfights became distressingly normal, each disturbance another harbinger of defeat in November. By the end of the roll call, Taft had 567 delegates to Teddy’s 507. Ultimately, he was nominated with 561 votes.

Roosevelt’s supporters bolted to Orchestra Hall, where Teddy gave a speech that were the birth pains of a new party—the Progressive or Bull Moose Party. President Taft’s supporters were mute in their victory. The Republican split essentially guaranteed the Democrats would take the White House in the fall.

All that was left to do now was count the votes in November. 

Check out The History’s Trainwrecks Podcast at the links below, and this episode in the embedded players:


Morris, Edmund. “Colonel Roosevelt.” Random House, 2010.

Roosevelt, Theodore. “Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt.”

Wikipedia, “1912 Republican Party Presidential Primaries.” Retrieved September 11, 2021 from

Wikipedia, “William Howard Taft.” Retrieved August 9, 2021 from

Friday, September 17, 2021

Podcast Episode 15 - Stubborn Nags of Ancient Rome, Part II

The Roman Republic was a mess.

Wealth and power did what wealth and power usually does: it corrupted the political system. Rome’s money troubles, prevalent in the time of Cato the Elder (234-149 BCE) were over. The final defeat of Carthage in 146 BCE paved the way for further conquest in the Mediterranean, and the cash came rolling in.

Upper class Romans got land and slaves and money and seats in the Senate, which they used to consolidate their power and make sure that they stayed high while the lower classes stayed low. The excesses of the rich—sex scandals, wild parties, and the occasional recreational slave execution—earned them plenty of enemies among the lower classes.

There was a very clear sense that Rome was on the wrong track.

Appointing a dictator seemed like one possible answer, but it ended up as these things usually do - with severed heads on pikes in the Forum. Rome needed an emergency brake.

Enter Cato the Younger. Plutarch says that, “even from his infancy, in his speech, his countenance, and all his childish pastimes, he discovered an inflexible temper, unmoved by any passion, and firm in everything.”

Just the kind of guy to become a thorn in the side of an autocrat.

Reign of Terror Safety Tip Number Two Hundred Fifty-Seven: Despots do not like persistent nagging.

Check out this episode on the History's Trainwrecks Podcast or the embedded players below:


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IHeart Radio:

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Duncan, Mike. “The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic.” Public Affairs, 2017.

Goodman, Rob and Soni, Jimmy. “Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar.” St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

Wikipedia, “Cato the Elder.” Retrieved September 14, 2021 from

Wikipedia, “Sulla.” Retrieved September 14, 2021 from

Wikipedia, “Gaius Marius.” Retrieved September 14, 2021 from

Monday, September 13, 2021

Podcast Episode 14 - Teddy Roosevelt's Third Term, Part VI


President Grover Cleveland was a terrible role model.

 He had won the presidency in 1884 and 1892 (he also won the popular vote in 1888, but the Electoral College went to Benjamin Harrison), making him both the 22nd and 24th President of the United States.

He proved that it was possible to serve a term in the White House, take some time off, and then win again. The Democrats even tried to run him again in 1904, as if serving two terms in a row was for rank amateurs like James Monroe and Ulysses S. Grant.

When confronted by the notion that he couldn’t leave the White House for four years and then come back, Theodore Roosevelt had Grover to point to as an example. So maybe the debacle of the election of 1912 could have all been avoided if Grover had just stayed home after leaving the White House.

Not really. What happened in 1912 was all Teddy.

As usual when conflicted, Teddy was capable of enormous damage: “He wanted to destroy Taft because Taft had failed. He wanted Taft to succeed because Taft was an extension of himself. He knew he was no longer President, but he was seen as presidential…Although he was not running, he was running. Even as he maintained his vow of silence, he was shouting from the hustings.”

Before too long, Teddy could only resolve his regret about promising not to run again for President in 1904 one way--by running for President in 1912.

“My hat is in the ring,” he said. “The fight is on and I am stripped to the buff.”

Doughy old William Howard Taft, instead of seeing his inevitable loss as an opportunity to step aside in return for his coveted Supreme Court seat, picked this moment to show some backbone.

“I fear things are going to become very bitter before long,” the President said. “But…I am going to defeat him in the convention.”

1912 was shaping up to be one rip-roaring year. 

Check out this episode on the History's Trainwrecks Podcast or the embedded players below:


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IHeart Radio:

Amazon Music:'s-trainwrecks



Morris, Edmund. “Colonel Roosevelt.” Random House, 2010.

Morris, Edmund. “Theodore Rex.” Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Roosevelt, Theodore. “Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt.”

Wikipedia, “Grover Cleveland.” Retrieved August 29, 2021 from

Wikipedia, “William Howard Taft.” Retrieved August 9, 2021 from

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Podcast Episode 13 - Ernest Hemingway's Last Penny

 Ernest Hemingway didn’t hate his mother, but he said some mean things about her.
He claimed that the money she spent on a summer cottage for herself could have been used to send him to college instead. He once told a friend that if his mother was a bird and flew in a straight line, he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at her. After his father’s suicide, Hemingway wrote, “My mother is an all time all American bitch and she would make a pack mule shoot himself; let alone poor bloody father.”
Family Relationship Tip Number Two Hundred Fifty Seven: do not let Ernest Hemingway write your Mother’s Day cards. 

He was married four times. His first wife, Hadley, was a supportive and nurturing motherly type. But the other three wives were independent women with careers of their own. His second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, worked for the magazines Vanity Fair and Vogue in Paris, which is where she and Ernest started the affair that broke up his first marriage. His third wife, Martha Gellhorn, was a writer and journalist who was known as one of the great war correspondents of the twentieth century. She met Ernest in 1936 in Key West, which is where she and Ernest started the affair that broke up his second marriage. His fourth wife, Mary Welsh, was a journalist for the London Daily Express. She met Ernest in 1944 while covering the Second World War, which is where she and Ernest started the affair that broke up his third marriage.
A certain pattern starts to emerge here: Ernest Hemingway was fond of independent, self-assured, career women like his mother.
He also seemed to enjoy getting sued for divorce on grounds of adultery.
Hemingway was a complicated guy. 
He was off covering the Spanish Civil War as a correspondent (and starting an affair with future third wife Martha Gellhorn) in 1937. The two had met in Key West the year before, and Pauline, knowing her husband like she did—and having a clear sense of history repeating itself, only with her playing the role of jilted spouse this time—suspected what the two of them were up to.
Pauline tore out her husband’s backyard boxing ring and built a massive in-ground swimming pool--24 feet wide and 60 feet long, with a 5-foot shallow end and a 10-foot deep end, all dug by hand through solid coral. There wasn’t enough water to fill it (nearly eighty-one thousand gallons was needed), so it was necessary to drill down to the salt water table to get enough water. It was the only pool within a hundred miles, and cost over $20,000 to build ($365,000 in 2020 dollars).
On a visit home, Hemingway was stunned by the cost overruns involved in pool construction. Pauline was likely unrepentant, suspecting what her philandering husband had been up to. Hemingway took a penny and flung it at her. It bounced off her shoulder and landed in the bottom of the pool.
“Pauline, you’ve spent all but my last penny,” Hemingway told her. “So you might as well have that.”
Pauline had the penny encased in plastic and mounted in the floor of the pool, where visitors to Hemingway’s Key West home can see it to this day.
But the costs kept coming. The pool had to be drained, cleaned, and refilled as often as every three days, using salt water pumps.
Philandering proved quite expensive for Ernest Hemingway: his first wife took the royalties for The Sun Also Rises, and his second wife took a couple years of his writing income to build a pool, then saddled him with the ongoing costs of its maintenance.
He would have been lucky to have gotten out of it for just a penny.


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Sources “Our Pool and Garden.” Retrieved August 31, 2021 from


Hutchisson, James M. “Ernest Hemingway: A New Life.” Penn State University Press, 2016.


Wikipedia, “Grace Hall Hemingway.” Retrieved August 31, 2021 from


Wikipedia, “Martha Gellhorn.” Retrieved August 31, 2021 from


Wikipedia, “Mary Welsh Hemingway.” Retrieved August 31, 2021 from


Wikipedia, “Pauline Pfeiffer.” Retrieved August 31, 2021 from


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Podcast Episode 12 - Fire In The Hole

Major General Ambrose Burnside was going to blow some stuff up.

Burnside led troops at the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in a manner described as “reluctant.” He ended up at the Siege of Petersburg, which was the aftermath of Grant’s failed attempt to defeat Lee in a pitched, decisive battle. Both sides dug trenches and waited. Grant knew his opponent had lost men he could not replace, and supplies were running low. But Lee was clever, and Grant worried that the more time Lee had to strategize, the more likely it was that he might escape. 

The battles leading up to the siege were bloody and costly for the North, and Grant was called a “butcher” for his apparent willingness to sacrifice his men in inconclusive battles. General Grant had his own experience at the siege of Vicksburg to draw upon, where he had learned that sieges were expensive and bad for morale.

Like Burnside, Grant needed something big to turn things around. 
Colonel Henry Pleasants, a mining engineer from Pennsylvania, hatched a plan where he would dig a long shaft under the Confederate trenches, pack it with gunpowder, and blow the whole thing sky-high. This would open a massive hole in the Southern defenses that troops could pour through and attack.

This sounded great to Burnside. As long as the plan went off without a hitch. 


On our next episode, we’ll wade in to Ernest Hemingway’s complicated relationships with women and dig in to his views on swimming pool construction.

Not to be cliché, but it all started with his mother.

Stay tuned for Ernest Hemingway’s Last Penny.

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American Battlefield Trust. “The Crater.” Retrieved August 30, 2021 from


Wikipedia, “Ambrose Burnside.” Retrieved August 29, 2021 from


Wikipedia, “Battle of Fredericksburg.” Retrieved August 29, 2021 from


Wikipedia, “United States Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.” Retrieved August 30, 2021 from