Jazz, blues and gumbo in the Deep South

The French Quarter in New Orleans is brimming with antique buildings and music
The French Quarter in New Orleans is brimming with antique buildings and music   GETTY IMAGES

‘So can we go upstairs?” An overworked guide gives me a weary look. “Nobody goes upstairs, nobody but family.” My grown-up daughter and I are on the porch of Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee, at the end of a road trip through the Deep South that has brought us to the second most visited house in America.

I know from the books that above us is the “death bathroom” where a heart attack felled Elvis Presley, supposedly as he read A Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus on the loo. With no chance of inappropriate selfies, we settled into our basic $43.75 tour.

The first striking fact is that, unlike everything else in America, Graceland is smaller than you expect: a solid suburban home gussied up by a portico with four Corinthian columns. The second surprise is that for all the green shag carpeting on ceilings, the white settees, the faux fur upholstery and the indoor waterfall, the interior is really rather intimate and homely. You can see why Elvis loved the place.

Visitors to Graceland are forbidden from seeing the bathroom where Elvis died
Visitors to Graceland are forbidden from seeing the bathroom where Elvis died   MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES

Long before reaching Presley’s doorstep, music and food had become the twin Corinthian pillars of our trip from Louisiana up Highway 61, the old “blues highway” through Mississippi. The adventure had begun, as many do, in New Orleans, specifically on that garish slash of neon, Bourbon Street, which cuts through the picturesque and otherwise charming French Quarter. Just off the plane, we went to the Desire Oyster Bar for our Welcome to Louisiana meal. Its no-nonsense menu was not for the weak-stomached: firecracker oysters, fried alligator (like chicken but saltier) and gumbo (southern stew). When a towering plate of shrimp and grits (similar to polenta) and a case of over-ambitious ordering defeated me, Kentrell, the oyster man, told me about the diner who downed nine orders of a dozen oysters. Yes, but that probably wasn’t at 3am UK time.

The next day we ventured farther into the French Quarter. In the balmy sun, surrounded by colourful, flower-bedecked antique buildings, you would have to try hard not to have a good time. Music was, of course, everywhere — a funky brass band, country blues buskers. Yes, this is tourist land but the standard was high, save for a lone trumpeter in Woldenberg Park by the Mississippi who seemed to slip into Baa, Baa, Black Sheep every time inspiration flagged. Even the living statues were a cut above, though the one we admired most, an eccentric figure in Canal Street, turned out, in fact, to be just a statue.

The restaurants too have their surprises. At ancient Napoleon House they showed us the upstairs chambers supposedly prepared for Bonaparte’s exile (never used after he died in St Helena). Above Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro there is a museum showing the costumes worn by the founder’s daughter at Mardi Gras balls. We inspected rows of ghostly mannequins clad as a mix of Disney princesses and Marie Antoinette.

John Bungey takes a break from Highway 61
John Bungey takes a break from Highway 61

By now, however, the road was calling — Highway 61, the legendary road as revisited by Bob Dylan. At first, however, the journey was dull unless you are a fan of swamp and low-budget ribbon development. However, excitement grew as it began to rain — and rain. By the time we reached picturesque Natchez, tornado warnings were gusting all over cable TV. Our hotel, the Grand, sat on a bluff high over the Mississippi, which was not, as in the Paul Simon song, “shining like a National guitar”. Instead Ol’ Man River brooded grey and ominous.

Natchez is known for the glories of its plantation houses — not so glorious if you were one of the four million slaves in the South labouring amid the cotton and sugar cane. The most spectacular residence we saw was Longwood, a six-storey mansion designed in Moorish style that comes with a poignant backstory. Only the basement was fitted out internally when the Civil War broke out and the northern builders fled. Its owner then died and his wife, reduced to penury, lived on with the children in the basement — as did their descendants for 100 years — never having the money to complete the interiors. The grand and ghostly upper floors are now a favourite for vampire movie-makers.

On we drove, the road taking us past more swamp and shacks and what looked in places like picturesque poverty, but real poverty nonetheless. We stopped at little Greenwood where the Alluvian was a fine boutique hotel, much-loved by weekending Americans. However, the rest of this little cotton city was a puzzle. For all its period buildings, the centre has been “hollowed out” by suburban growth. Trying to walk to a shop where you could buy, say, a banana or even (mad idea) a newspaper proved impossible. Instead we took the car to the Museum of the Mississippi Delta where they had the skeleton of a local mastodon, a re-creation of a swamp, and made a game attempt at explaining the convulsions of the Civil War and the bitter civil rights struggle in these parts.

Next came blues day. We drove out of town to the rustic little Zion Missionary Church to pay our respects at what may be the grave of the commercially insignificant but hugely influential bluesman Robert Johnson. There are two other alleged burial sites to choose from. Our route then took us past the crossroads where Johnson is said to have met the Devil to sell his soul in return for supernatural musical powers. Today Beelzebub would be crushed by the 18-wheelers trundling past before he could make the deal.

Halfway to Memphis we stopped at Clarksdale, touted as the birthplace of blues music. At the Delta Museum they were handing out fairy cakes to mark the birthday of Muddy Waters. The Ground Zero club is one part tourist trap, one part blues cliché and one part a very good time. We sipped root beer and listened to some righteous guitaring.

In Memphis we arrived at the new Napoleon Hotel, which pulls off the trick of being homely and hip. We told the valet we wanted to visit Sun Studio, cradle of early rock’n’roll. He pointed down the street. But it was one of those American urban forays via crumbling or non-existent sidewalks and past wandering lost souls that proved impossible for us. So we retreated and caught a bus. Sun Studio is small and airless, bedecked with pictures of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and sundry lost legends. At one end is a drum kit left behind when U2 rattled and hummed here in 1987; at the other end our guide, Nina, unveiled an ancient Shure 55 mike that Elvis may or may not have sung into. “Do not kiss it or lick it,” she implored, as the holy relic was passed round.

Downtown Memphis was smart and shiny, the rest was not. We ate a decent plate of gumbo in Beale Street, the music quarter, which is heavily touristy. But the National Civil Rights Museum, built around the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was shot in 1968, is hugely moving. King’s bedroom is preserved as on the day of his death. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, celebrating the mighty local label, was also $13 well spent.

After our Graceland foray, it was a six-hour straight drive down the Interstate 55 for another brief taste of New Orleans. At a final brunch at Commander’s Palace, I drank a potent local Sazerac cocktail, then another, and not surprisingly fell asleep on the plane home. I had a dream that I was back in Graceland and the reincarnated Elvis himself was showing me round upstairs. Yet as we reached his inner sanctum he morphed into an air stewardess who was telling me to buckle up for landing. Some things in the Deep South will for ever remain a deep mystery.


Mystery: Hours before his death, Edgar Allan Poe was found in the gutter, disheveled and raving


It’s a mystery the father of detective fiction may have penned himself: On a dark and stormy election night in 1849, a newspaperman hurrying to Ryan’s 4th ward polling place in Baltimore came upon a man lying in a gutter outside the public hall. The man was dirty, disheveled, and barely coherent. When the newspaperman stopped, he received quite a shock: this filthy, seeming stumblebum was the estimable poet and detective writer, none other than Edgar Allan Poe.

Quickly the newspaperman sent a message to a Poe associate describing Poe as “the worse for wear,” “in great distress,” and “in need of immediate assistance.”

Though Poe was hurried off to Washington College Hospital, he dipped in and out of a feverish and hallucinatory consciousness, at one point calling out for “Reynolds”—another unexplained mystery. He never regained full lucidity and died four days later, at age 40, on October 7, 1849, reportedly of “phrenitis,” or swelling of the brain.

What caused the writer of “The Tell-Tale Heart” to land in a gutter and never recover? Was he drunk, sick, or beaten to death? “Maybe it’s fitting that since he invented the detective story,” Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum, in Richmond, Virginia, told Smithsonian magazine. “He left us with a real-life mystery.”

Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809, in Boston, the son of two actors. His early life was marked by loss. His father abandoned the family when Edgar was an infant; his mother died of tuberculosis two years later. He was raised in Richmond, Virginia, by a Scottish merchant, with whom had many disagreements over money. Poe attended the University of Virginia briefly, dropped out and enlisted in the Army, where he spent two years and published his largely ignored first book of poetry.

Poe attended West Point, where he published another book of poetry, but he chafed at the discipline and successfully got himself kicked out. In 1835, he became a magazine editor and a literary critic known for harsh appraisals. When he was 27, he fell in love with and married his cousin Virginia Clemm, then 13, and the couple moved to New York. In 1841, he published the story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” often cited as the first modern detective story.

Poe achieved more universal acclaim when he published his dark and hypnotic poem “The Raven,” in The New York Evening Mirror in 1845. It was around this time that Virginia started coughing blood—a terrible tell-tale sign of tuberculosis. When she died in 1847, Poe fell into a deep, alcohol-fueled despondency from which his friends feared he would never recover. He became engaged nearly two years later, but his fiancée insisted he quit drinking, and he couldn’t. Indeed, for many years people assumed that alcoholism felled him.

Setting the scene for the events that led to his death, Poe spent the summer of 1849 in Richmond, proposing to his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. On September 27, 1849, he left Royster in Richmond and set off to Philadelphia, where he was to help a friend edit a collection of poems. He never arrived, and no one knew where he was until the newspaperman found him October 3 outside the polling place.

Was Poe inebriated? He was highly susceptible to the effects of alcohol, and even a couple of drinks could’ve made him blind drunk. In 1867, one of his first biographers theorized that thugs may have beaten him in his drunken state. Others speculated that he was a victim of the 19th century voter-fraud practice of “cooping,” whereby a man, persuaded by alcohol, was forced to vote multiple times under different aliases at multiple locations.

Other suppositions include poisoning—by carbon monoxide or heavy metal—but DNA testing of Poe’s hair clippings have largely discredited those theories.

In the September 1996 issue of Maryland Medical Journal, Dr. R. Michael Benitez published an article pulling together facts that suggested Poe had died from rabies.

Most recently, historians have surmised Poe may have had a brain tumor. When Poe’s remains were exhumed 26 years after his death for relocation, the rotted coffin unfortunately fell apart. Observers noted a mass in his skull, and assumed it was his brain. Today forensics experts know the brain would’ve disintegrated in two decades, but a tumor would remain intact. Pressing on the brain, a tumor can cause erratic behavior and stuttering incoherence easily mistaken for drunkenness.

“I’ve never been completely convinced of any one theory,” Semtner, the Poe Museum historian, told Smithsonian.

Will we ever really know how Poe died?

If you asked his Raven, you know the answer: NEVERMORE.

By  Scott Antony





James Naismith holding a ball and a peach basket, the first basketball equipment.
November 6, 1861

Almonte, Canada

November 28, 1939 (aged 78)



Ethan Hawke

Maria Shriver

Glenn Frey

Sally Field

Charles II



The Cleveland Browns (left) in a game against the Carolina Panthers.
1996  Art Modell, the owner of the NFL‘s Cleveland Browns, announced that he was moving the team to Baltimore, which enraged sportswriters and Cleveland fans.
Ronald Reagan.
1984  U.S. President Ronald Reagan won reelection in a landslide victory over Democratic candidate Walter F. Mondale.
Vladimir Ilich Lenin addressing the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets in Petrograd, November 8 [October 26, Old Style], 1917.
1917   The second phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917 began (October 25, Old Style) as the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia.
Benjamin Harrison, photograph by George Prince, 1888.
1888  Benjamin Harrison of the Republican Party was elected U.S. president by an electoral majority despite losing the popular vote by more than 90,000 to his Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland.
Walter Johnson.
1887   Professional baseball player Walter Johnson, who had perhaps the greatest fastball in the history of the game, was born in Humboldt, Kansas.
John Philip Sousa.
1854   American bandmaster John Philip Sousa, who composed 136 military marches, was born.
Charles II of Spain, detail of a portrait by Juan Carreño, c. 1685; in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
1661  Charles II, who ruled Spain from 1665 to 1700 and was the last monarch of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty, was born.


Simón Bolívar
Simon Bolivar

Simón Bolívarby name The Liberator or Spanish El Libertador (born July 24, 1783, Caracas, Venezuela, New Granada [now in Venezuela]—died December 17, 1830, near Santa Marta, Colombia), Venezuelan soldier and statesman who led the revolutions against Spanish rule in the Viceroyalty of New Granada. He was president of Gran Colombia(1819–30) and dictator of Peru (1823–26).

Early Life

The son of a Venezuelan aristocrat of Spanish descent, Bolívar was born to wealth and position. His father died when the boy was three years old, and his mother died six years later, after which his uncle administered his inheritance and provided him with tutors. One of those tutors, Simón Rodríguez, was to have a deep and lasting effect on him. Rodríguez, a disciple of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, introduced Bolívar to the world of 18th-century liberal thought.

At the age of 16, Bolívar was sent to Europe to complete his education. For three years he lived in Spain, and in 1801 he married the daughter of a Spanish nobleman, with whom he returned to Caracas. The young bride died of yellow fever less than a year after their marriage. Bolívar believed that her tragic death was the reason that he took up a political career while still a young man.

In 1804, when Napoleon I was approaching the pinnacle of his career, Bolívar returned to Europe. In Paris, under the renewed guidance of his friend and tutor Rodríguez, he steeped himself in the writings of European rationalist thinkers such as John LockeThomas HobbesGeorges-Louis Leclerc, count de BuffonJean le Rond d’Alembert, and Claude-Adrien Helvétius, as well as VoltaireMontesquieu, and Rousseau. The latter two had the deepest influence on his political life, but Voltaire coloured his philosophy of life. In Paris he met the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt, who had just returned from his voyage through Hispanic America and told Bolívar that he believed the Spanish colonies were ripe for independence. That idea took root in Bolívar’s imagination, and, on a trip to Rome with Rodríguez, as they stood on the heights of Monte Sacro, he made a vow to liberate his country.

One other experience enriched his intellect at that time: he watched the extraordinary performance that culminated in Napoleon’s coronation in 1804 as emperor of the French. Bolívar’s reaction to the coronation wavered between admiration of the accomplishments of a single man and revulsion at Napoleon’s betrayal of the ideals of the French Revolution. The desire for glory was one of the permanent traits in Bolívar’s character, and there can be little doubt that it was stimulated by Napoleon. The example of Napoleon was, nevertheless, a warning that Bolívar heeded. In his later days he always insisted that the title of “liberator” was higher than any other and that he would not exchange it for that of king or emperor. In 1807 he returned to Venezuela by way of the United States, visiting the eastern cities.

Independence Movement 

The Latin American independence movement was launched a year after Bolívar’s return, as Napoleon’s invasion of Spain unsettled Spanish authority. Napoleon also failed completely in his attempt to gain the support of the Spanish colonies, which claimed the right to nominate their own officials. Following the example of the mother country, they wished to establish juntas to rule in the name of the deposed Spanish king. Many of the Spanish settlers, however, saw in those events an opportunity to sever their ties with Spain. Bolívar himself participated in various conspiratorial meetings, and on April 19, 1810, the Spanish governor was officially deprived of his powers and expelled from Venezuela. A junta took over. To obtain help, Bolívar was sent on a mission to London, where he arrived in July. His assignment was to explain to England the plight of the revolutionary colony, to gain recognition for it, and to obtain arms and support. Although he failed in his official negotiations, his English sojourn was in other respects a fruitful one. It gave him an opportunity to study the institutions of the United Kingdom, which remained for him models of political wisdom and stability. More important, he fostered the cause of the revolution by persuading the exiled Venezuelan Francisco de Miranda, who in 1806 had attempted to liberate his country single-handedly, to return to Caracas and assume command of the independence movement.

 Venezuela was in ferment. In March 1811 a national congress met in Caracas to draft a constitution. Bolívar, though not a delegate, threw himself into the debate that aroused the country. In the first public speech of his career, he declared, “Let us lay the cornerstone of American freedom without fear. To hesitate is to perish.” After long deliberation, the national assembly declared Venezuela’s independence on July 5, 1811. Bolívar now entered the army of the young republic, whose commander in chief was Miranda, and was placed in charge of Puerto Cabello, a port on the Caribbean Sea west of Caracas that was vital to Venezuela. In the short time since their London meeting, he and Miranda had drifted apart. Miranda called Bolívar a “dangerous youth,” and Bolívar had misgivings about the aging general’s abilities. Treasonable action by one of Bolívar’s officers opened the fortress to the Spanish forces, and Miranda, the commander in chief, entered into negotiations with the Spanish commander in chief. An armistice was signed (July 1812) that left the entire country at the mercy of Spain. Miranda was turned over to the Spaniards—after Bolívar and others prevented his escape from Venezuela—and spent the rest of his life in Spanish dungeons.

Determined to continue the struggle, Bolívar obtained a passport to leave the country and went to Cartagena in New Granada. There he published the first of his great political statements, El manifiesto de Cartagena (“The Cartagena Manifesto”), in which he attributed the fall of Venezuela’s First Republic to the lack of strong government and called for a united revolutionary effort to destroy the power of Spain in the Americas.

With backing from the patriots of New Granada, Bolívar led an expeditionary force to retake Venezuela. In a sweeping hard-fought campaign, he vanquished the royalists in six pitched battles and on August 6, 1813, entered Caracas. He was given the title of Liberator and assumed political dictatorship. The war of independence was just beginning, however. The majority of the people of Venezuela were hostile to the forces of independence and weary of the sacrifices imposed. A cruel civil war broke out, and Bolívar himself resorted to extreme measures, such as the shooting of prisoners. His severity failed in its object. In 1814 Bolívar was once more defeated by the Spanish, who had converted the llaneros (cowboys) led by José Tomás Boves into an undisciplined but savagely effective cavalry that Bolívar was unable to repulse. Boves subjected Creole patriots to terrible atrocities, and his capture of Caracas and other principal cities ended the second Venezuelan republic. Narrowly escaping Miranda’s fate, Bolívar fled to New Granada, where he was commissioned in Cartagena to oust a separatist faction from Bogotá (now in Colombia) and succeeded in doing so. He then laid siege to Cartagena but failed to unite the revolutionary forces and fled to Jamaica.

In exile, Bolívar turned his energies toward gaining support from Great Britain, and, in an effort to convince the British people of their stake in the freedom of the Spanish colonies, he wrote the greatest document of his career: La carta de Jamaica (“The Letter from Jamaica”), in which he outlined a grandiose panorama from Chile and Argentina to Mexico. “The bonds,” wrote Bolívar, “that united us to Spain have been severed.” He was not dismayed that the Spaniards had in certain instances won the upper hand. “A people that love freedom will in the end be free. We are,” he said proudly, “a microcosm of the human race. We are a world apart, confined within two oceans, young in arts and sciences, but old as a human society. We are neither Indians nor Europeans, yet we are a part of each.” He proposed constitutional republics throughout Hispanic America, and for the former Viceroyalty of New Granada he envisioned a government modeled on that of Great Britain, with a hereditary upper house, an elected lower house, and a president chosen for life. The last provision, to which Bolívar clung throughout his career, constituted the most dubious feature of his political thinking.

In “The Letter from Jamaica,” Bolívar showed himself as a great internationalist. He looked forward to the day when the representatives of all Hispanic American nations would gather in a central location such as Panama.

By 1815, Spain had sent to its seditious colonies the strongest expeditionary force that had ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Its commander was Pablo Morillo. Since neither Great Britain nor the United States would promise aid, Bolívar turned to Haiti, which had recently freed itself from French rule. There he was given a friendly reception as well as money and weapons.

Liberation Of New Granada

Three years of indecisive defeats and victories followed. In 1817 Bolívar decided to set up headquarters in the Orinoco River region, which had not been devastated by war and from which the Spaniards could not easily oust him. He engaged the services of several thousand foreign soldiers and officers, mostly British and Irish, established his capital at Angostura (now Ciudad Bolívar), began to publish a newspaper, and established a liaison with the revolutionary forces of the plains, including one group led by José Antonio Páez and another group led by Francisco de Paula Santander. In spring 1819 he conceived his master plan of attacking the Viceroyalty of New Granada.

  • Francisco de Paula Santander, statue in Medellín, Colombia.
    Francisco de Paula Santander, statue in Medellín, Colombia.
    Alejandro Sajor
  • General José Antonio Páez.
    General José Antonio Páez.   Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Bolívar’s attack on New Granada is considered one of the most daring in military history. The route of the small army (about 2,500 men, including the British legion) led through the plains, but it was the rainy season, and the rivers had become lakes. For seven days, according to one of Bolívar’s aides, they marched in water up to their waists. Ten navigable rivers were crossed, most of them in cowhide boats. The journey through the plains seemed child’s play, however, in comparison with their ascent of the Andes Mountains that stood between Bolívar and the city of Bogotá. Bolívar had chosen to cross the cordillera at the pass of Pisba, which the Spanish considered an inconceivable approach. An icy wind blew across the heights of the pass, and many of the scantily clad troops died of cold and exposure. The fatigue and loss, however, were more than outweighed by the advantage gained in descending unopposed into New Granada. The Spaniards were taken by surprise, and in the crucial Battle of Boyacá on August 7, 1819, the bulk of the royalist army surrendered to Bolívar. Three days later he entered Bogotá. That action was the turning point in the history of northern South America.

Indefatigably, Bolívar set out to complete his task. He appointed Santander vice president in charge of the administration and in December 1819 made his appearance before the congress that had assembled in Angostura. Bolívar was made president and military dictator. He urged the legislators to proclaim the creation of a new state; three days later the Republic of Colombia, usually called Gran Colombia, was established, comprising the three departments of New Granada (now the countries of Colombia and Panama), Venezuela, and Quito (Ecuador). Since most of that territory was still under royalist control, it was largely a paper achievement. Bolívar knew, however, that victory was finally within his grasp. Early in 1820 a revolution in Spain forced the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII, to recognize the ideals of liberalism on the home front, an action that discouraged the Spanish forces in South America. Bolívar persuaded Morillo to open armistice negotiations, and the two warriors met in a memorable encounter at Santa Ana, Venezuela, signing in November 1820 a treaty that ended hostilities for a six-month period.

When fighting was resumed, Bolívar found it easy, with his superior manpower, to defeat the Spanish forces in Venezuela. The Battle of Carabobo (June 1821) opened the gates of Caracas, and Bolívar’s Venezuelan homeland was at last free. In the autumn of the same year, a congress convened in Cúcuta to draft a constitution for Gran Colombia. Its provisions disappointed Bolívar. Although he had been elected president, he thought the constitution was too liberal in character to guarantee the survival of his creation. As long as more-urgent assignments claimed his attention, however, he was willing to put up with its weak structure. Putting the administration in Santander’s hands, he left to continue his military campaign.

The effort to liberate Ecuador lasted about a year. Bolívar was assisted by the most brilliant of his officers, Antonio José de Sucre. While Bolívar engaged the Spaniards in the mountains that defended the northern access to Quito, capital of Ecuador, Sucre marched from the Pacific Ocean coast to the interior. At Pichincha on May 24, 1822, he won a victory that freed Ecuador from the Spanish yoke. On the following day the capital fell, and Bolívar joined forces with Sucre on June 16.

It was in Quito that the Liberator met the great passion of his life, Manuela Sáenz. She was an ardent revolutionary who freely admitted her love for Bolívar and accompanied him first to Peru and ultimately to the presidential palace in Bogotá.

Liberation Of Peru

The territory of Gran Colombia had now been completely recovered from Spain, and its new government was recognized by the United States. Only Peru and Upper Peru remained in the hands of the Spaniards. It was the Peruvian problem that brought Bolívar and the Argentine revolutionary José de San Martín together. San Martín had done for the southern part of the continent what Bolívar had accomplished for the north. In addition, San Martín had already entered Lima and proclaimed Peru’s independence. But the Spanish forces had retreated into the highlands, and San Martín, unable to follow them, decided to consult with Bolívar. On July 26, 1822, the two men met in the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador (the Guayaquil Conference). Details of their discussions are not known, but presumably they covered completion of the military struggle in Peru as well as the subsequent organization of liberated Hispanic America. San Martín must have understood that Bolívar alone combined the military, political, and psychological assets needed to gain final victory over the powerful Spanish army in the highlands. Given the situation in Lima, where he faced mounting opposition, San Martín’s presence there could only hinder the performance of that task. On his return from Guayaquil, San Martín resigned his office in Lima and went into exile, allowing Bolívar to assume sole direction of the war. Whether he took that action to give Bolívar a free hand or out of a sense of personal frustration is unknown.

The avenue that would lead to Bolívar’s ultimate ambition was now open. In September 1823 he arrived in Lima. The Spanish army occupied the mountains east of the city, and its position was considered unassailable. Bolívar, however, systematically assembled troops, horses, mules, and ammunition to form an army, and in 1824 he moved out of the temporary capital in Trujillo and ascended the high cordillera. The first major battle took place at Junín and was easily won by Bolívar, who then left the successful termination of the campaign to his able chief of staff, Sucre. On December 9, 1824, the Spanish viceroy lost the Battle of Ayacucho to Sucre and surrendered with his entire army.


Bolívar was now president of Gran Colombia and dictator of Peru. Only a small section of the continent—Upper Peru—was still defended by royalist forces. The liberation of that region fell to Sucre, and in April 1825 he reported that the task had been accomplished. The new country chose to be called Bolivia, a variation on the Liberator’s name. For that child of his genius, Bolívar drafted a constitution that showed once more his authoritarian inclinations: it created a lifetime president, a legislative body consisting of three chambers, and a highly restricted suffrage. Bolívar was devoted to his own creation, but, as the instrument of social reform that he had envisaged, the constitution was a failure.

Bolívar had now reached the high point of his career. His power extended from the Caribbean to the Argentine-Bolivian border. He had conquered severe illness, which during his sojourn in Peru had made him practically an invalid for months at a time. Another of his favourite projects, a league of Hispanic American states, came to fruition in 1826. He had long advocated treaties of alliance between the American republics, whose weakness he correctly apprehended. By 1824 such treaties had been signed and ratified by the republics of Colombia, Peru, Mexico, the United Provinces of Central America, and the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. In 1826 a general American congress convened in Panama under Bolívar’s auspices. Compared with Bolívar’s original proposals, it was a fragmentary affair, with only Colombia, Peru, Central America, and Mexico sending representatives. The four countries that attended signed a treaty of alliance and invited all other American countries to adhere to it. A common army and navy were planned, and a biannual assembly representing the federated states was projected. All controversies among the states were to be solved by arbitration. Only Colombia ratified the treaty, yet the congress in Panama provided an important example for future hemispheric solidarity and understanding in South America.

Bolívar was aware that his plans for hemispheric organization had met with only limited acceptance. His contemporaries thought in terms of individual nation-states, Bolívar in terms of continents. In the field of domestic policy he continued to be an authoritarian republican. He thought of himself as a rallying point and anticipated civil war as soon as his words should no longer be heeded. Such a prophecy, made in 1824, was fulfilled in 1826.

Civil War

Venezuela and New Granada began to chafe at the bonds of their union in Gran Colombia. The protagonists in each country, Páez in Venezuela and Santander in New Granada, opposed each other, and at last civil war broke out. Bolívar left Lima in haste, and most authorities agree that Peru was glad to see the end of his three-year reign and its liberation from Colombian influence. In Bogotá, Bolívar found Santander upholding the constitution of Cúcuta and urging that Páez be punished as a rebel. Bolívar, however, was determined to preserve the unity of Gran Colombia and was therefore willing to appease Páez, with whom he became reconciled early in 1827. Páez bowed to the supreme authority of the Liberator, and in turn Bolívar promised a new constitution that would remedy Venezuelan grievances. He declared himself dictator of Gran Colombia and called for a national convention that met in April 1828. Bolívar refused to influence the elections, with the result that the liberals under the leadership of Santander gained the majority.

Bolívar had hoped that the constitution of Cúcuta would be revised and presidential authority strengthened, but the liberals blocked any such attempts. A stalemate developed. Arguing that the old constitution was no longer valid and that no new one had taken its place, Bolívar assumed dictatorial powers in Gran Colombia. A group of liberal conspirators invaded the presidential palace on the night of September 25, and Bolívar was saved from the daggers of the assassins only by the quick-wittedness of Manuela Sáenz. Although the attempt on his life failed, the storm signals increased. Bolívar’s precarious health began to fail. Peru invaded Ecuador with the intention of annexing Guayaquil. Once more Sucre saved Ecuador and defeated the Peruvians at Tarqui (1829). A few months later one of Bolívar’s most-honoured generals, José María Córdoba, staged a revolt. It was crushed, but Bolívar was disheartened by the continued ingratitude of his former adherents. In the fall of 1829 Venezuela seceded from Gran Colombia.

Reluctantly, Bolívar realized that his very existence presented a danger to the internal and external peace of the nations that owed their independence to him, and on May 8, 1830, he left Bogotá, planning to take refuge in Europe. Reaching the Atlantic coast, he learned that Sucre, whom he had trained as his successor, had been assassinated. Bolívar’s grief was boundless. The projected trip to Europe was canceled, and, at the invitation of a Spanish admirer, Bolívar journeyed to his estate near Santa Marta. Ironically, his life ended in the house of a Spaniard, where, toward the end of 1830, he died of tuberculosis.

Bolívar is regarded by many as the greatest genius the Latin Americanworld has produced. He was a man of international renown in his own day, and his reputation has steadily increased since his death. There are few figures in European history and none in the history of the United States who display the rare combination of strength and weakness, character and temperament, prophetic vision and poetic power that distinguish Simón Bolívar. As a consequence, his life and his work have grown to mythical dimensions among the people of his continent.

By Gerhard Straussmann Masur

Gail Borden’s breakthrough, life-saving invention of condensed milk was inspired by watching Shakers boil fruit

Throughout the ages, humans have tried to invent ways to preserve food over long periods so that it can be stored and used in times or places where fresh food isn’t available. One such invention modernized the dairy-products industry and helped save thousands of children. In the middle of the 19th century, a New York-born amateur inventor called Gail Borden revolutionized the process of condensing milk, making this essential product safer and more available to people.

Before 1856, milk was only available fresh. This posed a huge problem on ships, for example, as during longer voyages, they had to carry herds of cows to produce the fresh milk needed for the passengers, especially small children. The cows, which are not sea animals, often got seasick and didn’t produce the milk that was needed for the journey. Borden was on one such journey and saw how children suffered due to lack of milk on board.

Gail Borden had done many different things in his life. He started as a land surveyor and participated in the making of the first topographical map of Texas. Then, without any previous experience, he started working as an editor for a fairly successful newspaper, the Telegraph and Texas Register. After this experience, he went into politics for a while, before devoting himself to the improvement of the food-preservation process.

Gail Borden

Borden’s first food-related invention was a meat biscuit, a dehydrated-beef-meat essence that was inspired by the traditional Native American dried meat called pemmican. Although not very economically successful (the biscuit was unpalatable), this product brought Borden a gold medal at the 1851 London World’s Fair. On his way back from the exhibition, on a ship from London to New York, he witnessed something terrible. The cows on board the ship got seasick and then died from an infectious disease. This was not all. The children who drank the infected milk also died. Borden was horrified and decided to try and do something about this issue and stop the suffering.

Patent RE2103 for Improvements in Condensing Milk

Back in New York he closed himself up in his Brooklyn basement “laboratory” and started working out a way to preserve milk. He first took a gallon of milk and tried boiling it in an open pan. He boiled all the excessive water until only a small amount of milk essence was left. The result was a dark and disgusting substance that tasted like scorched molasses. He tried to taste it, but it was terrible. This wasn’t working, and he needed a different approach.

One day, he went to visit a Shaker Colony. He saw something interesting: The Shakers were boiling fruits in order to dehydrate them, and they used a special vacuum pan for this. Borden thought that he could do the same with milk. All liquids boil at lower temperatures when they are in an atmosphere in which the pressure is reduced. This means that Borden could boil the milk in a vacuum pan without burning it and without destroying its taste.

In the vacuum pan, milk boiled at 136 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 212 in normal conditions. This way, the milk still tasted nice and kept its color, but more importantly, it could be kept drinkable over long periods of time. Although Borden didn’t know about the existence of bacteria in milk, he claimed that milk is a “living fluid.” Contemporary scientists also knew that something in the air made milk go sour after a while.

Advertisement for Gail Borden’s Eagle Brand Condensed Milk from an 1898 guidebook for travelers in the Klondike Gold Rush

Gail Borden kept improving and refining his model of an industrial vacuum pan for condensing milk, and after three years of hard work, in 1856, he got the patent. This time, he decided not to make the same mistake as with the meat biscuit. He was determined to make a profit, but in the beginning, things didn’t go too well. His first two factories for condensed milk weren’t very productive, and people weren’t used to the taste of condensed milk. His financial backers wanted to see money on the table and withdrew, and he was forced to close the factories. Borden’s luck turned when he met Jeremiah Milbank, who was a wealthy New Yorker in the railroad and banking business. He saw great potential in condensed milk and decided to invest in it. Milbank gave Borden more than $100,000, and together they opened the New York Condensed Milk Company.

Sales of condensed milk immediately went up, and Borden’s condensed milk factories started to pop up everywhere around the states of New York and Illinois. When the Civil War began in 1861, condensed milk found another customer: the Union Army. The Union generals bought hundreds of tins of condensed milk for their soldiers. In just a few years, Borden managed to completely change the milk products industry.

Condensed milk can from Borden Milk Products with Spanish-language lettering, from the second half of the 20th century. Author: Museo del Objeto CC BY3.0

Besides being successful at sales, Borden wanted his company to have the highest production standards of the time. Before he started making condensed milk, almost nobody considered the importance of sanitary conditions. Cow keepers didn’t care at all. Many of the cows were diseased, and milk was transported to the local buyers in the same carts in which they carried manure. Back in those days, there was no sanitary inspection. Borden started to do things differently. His company was proud of the safety and purity of their milk, and he intended to keep things that way. That is why Borden sent his own sanitary inspectors to all the cow farms that distributed milk to his factories. They needed to follow his instructions if they wanted to work with him.

Borden demanded several things from the farmers he worked with. His inspectors had a checklist called “the Dairyman’s Ten Commandments.” The temperature of the milk wasn’t supposed to be over 52 degrees; the udders of the cows had to be cleaned before milking; the milk cans should be cleaned before use; and many other strict rules. In the beginning, farmers were reluctant to accept his rules, but soon they saw the benefit and agreed to make their farms and milk better.

Condensed milk made the world a healthier place and saved thousands of children and men. Mothers began to feed their children with Borden’s product (Eagle brand condensed milk) and the children who grew up drinking it were nicknamed “Eagle Brand Babies.”  Not entirely aware of the significance of his work, Borden sterilized milk decades before the criticality of the pasteurization of milk was scientifically proved. Most of Borden’s sanitary standards are still in use today, which speaks tons about the remarkable work he did for humanity.

By Boban Docevski

Money talks in “Club 33”: A secret Disneyland venue that Walt Disney built only for the wealthy, alcohol included

Author: Mxreb0 CC BY-SA 3.0

When Walt Disney opened the Disney Park in California on July 17, 1955, he delivered a welcome speech to his guests. Some of its first sentences were: “Here, age relives fond memories of the past, and here, youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” These same words are part of a Morse-code message that is replayed by a telegraph office situated at the New Orleans Square Railroad Station in the Disneyland resort.

There are a few other secrets that a visitor can come across and explore around the park. However, some hidden spots are not accessible to most mere mortals. At least not when it comes to Club 33. This venue is reserved for those who live the high life and are ready to pay a minimum of $25,000 for a sign-up fee, plus an additional annual payment of $12,000.

Depending on the membership, the initiation fee can reportedly go as high as $100,000, and the annual charge to keep your name on the list–up to $30,000. Club 33 is an exclusive, membership-only venue that is housed in an unmarked building at the park’s famed New Orleans Square. It can be recognized only by a plaque with the number “33” hung above the entrance door, hardly noticed by anyone who doesn’t know where it leads.

In this club, Disney wanted to welcome the wealthiest of his guests, whether these were politicians, business leaders, or celebrities. However, he never lived to see the luxurious venue officially opened as he died less than a half year before the official opening in 1967.

Entrance of Club 33

Decades after it opened, Club 33 is one of the most exclusive membership venues on the whole planet. And for good reasons. It is a place to enjoy a fancy dinner, be served alcoholic drinks–which are not allowed anywhere else in Disneyland–and enjoy the splendid and lavish decor of the interior.

Club 33 Author: Patrick Pelletier CC BY-SA3.0

When entering the venue, there is not only the club’s personnel to greet guests but also a talking vulture perched atop an old grandfather clock. According to some, Walt Disney initially planned to have similar robotic birds in some of the club’s dining rooms, which would be connected to eavesdropping equipment in order to spy on people’s conversation. To date, however, the talking vulture has remained just kind enough to welcome guests as they arrive at the reception.

Bar area at Club 33 at Disneyland. Author: Patrick Pelletier CC BY-SA3.0

Plenty more authentic decorations and antique interior elements overwhelm the inside of Club 33, many of which were chosen not by Disney himself but his spouse, Lillian Disney.

One exceptional piece is the French elevator inside the reception area. According to another story, Disney had this element specially ordered for the club. Supposedly, it is a replica of one that Walt Disney saw during a vacation in Paris. He had immediately wished to purchase the elevator, but the owner of the original refused to sell. Disney, however, remained undeterred in his wishes. He commissioned an engineering team to visit the hotel in Paris, to take measurements of the piece, and to produce a faithful copy.

The harpsichord in Club 33 Author: Sam Howzit CC BY2.0

The lift remained operational until the 2014 refurbishment of the club. While back in the day it was used to take guests to the second level where the dining rooms are situated, currently it is simply a decorative booth.

The original foyer Author: HarshLight CC BY-SA2.0

The two dining rooms are known as the Salon Nouveau and the Grand Salon, the latter of which is known to be a bit more formal and exclusively for reserved-seating meals. The Grand Salon also opens to a couple of balconies overlooking the park’s New Orleans section. From here, club members can easily follow through any scheduled show down in the plaza. If they are not in the mood for a show, they can always enjoy the ambiance inside the club where exquisite furniture and Disney memorabilia are in abundance.

Club 33 Dining Room Author: Ben Stiefel CC BY-SA2.0

Some of the decoration includes a section of wall decorated with butterflies, all pinned under glass. There are also a number of original hand-painted animations cells from the 1940 film Fantasia adorning the walls.

The original main dining room prior to the 2014 remodel. Today the Grand Salon is located here. Author: Space Mountain Mike CC BY-SA 3.0

A harpsichord that was reportedly custom-made for Lillian Disney and purposed for Club 33 lurks in one of the rooms as well. It was Disney artists who gave a unique touch to this piece, and so far, it has been played only by famous musicians such as Paul McCartney and Elton John.

Reception desk at Club 33 at Disneyland. Author: Patrick Pelletier CC BY-SA3.0

There is a phone booth that initially found purpose in the 1967 musical The Happiest Millionaire. Another former stage prop is a marble-topped walnut table–it was used in the fantasy musical Mary Poppins from 1964. Props from several more Disney films further beautify the interior of the venue.

On the right is the phone booth that was used in The Happiest Millionaire. Source
On the right is the phone booth that was used in The Happiest Millionaire. Author: Patrick Pelletier  CC BY-SA2.0

Guests at the club are advised to arrive hungry, as well as needing to be dressed well. They can enjoy a six-course menu that has both French and American cuisine. The strict dress code insists on no shorts; evening dress or business attire is the favored dress etiquette if you wish to be admitted to your reserved table.

Exit sign at Club 33 at Disneyland. Author: Patrick Pelletier CC BY-SA3.0

Reportedly, only around 500 people have the privilege of enjoying the lavishness of Club 33, while hundreds more can find their name on the waiting list for membership admissions. In case Club 33 is “too much” for some members, they can instead opt for 1901, another exclusive lounge found in the California Adventure’s Carthay Circle Theater restaurant.

Read another story from us: The Cinderella Castle in Disney World has a suite that was originally built for Walt Disney

Rumor has it that the Disney resort is expanding its lavish offerings, with alleged plans for new outposts in other resorts. Each of the new venues is set to maintain an authentic look. Likely, these will also occupy secret spots, uncharted on any regular Disney map.

 Stefan A