Archive for the ‘History’ Category

HAROLD BRIDE (1890 – 1956) Wireless Operator on the Titanic

In adventure, American History, Biography, History, People, People from England, Telegraph Operators, Titanic, Trivia on July 19, 2010 at 9:38 PM

Harold Bride at age 16

Harold Bride was one of those kids who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a wireless operator.  The youngest of five children, he was shy and soft spoken with an easy sense of humor.  The telegraph was the hottest wireless technology at the time, and Bride was a techno geek in the making.

It was expensive to go to telegraphy school, so he worked in the family business until age 20 to earn the money for tuition.  In 1910 he started classes, and, to the neighbors’ disgust, built an antenna in the yard so he could practice using Morse code.   He finished his training after one year and immediately started a job in London.

In March 1912, Bride received a telegram saying his next posting would be on the Titanic and was sent to Belfast, Ireland for special training. Bride and his boss, Jack Phillips, were placed onboard the ship through the Marconi International Marine Telegraph Company and given junior officer status.  The salary was adequate but the adventure quotient was very high.

Two weeks before reporting for the sea trials, Bride and Mabel Ludlow became engaged.  He had doubts that she was the one, but she nagged him until he acquiesced, giving her something to brag about while he was at sea.   

ADVENTURE AT SEA                        On April 10, 1912 the Titanic set sail. The wireless broke down on April 13, and it took Bride and Phillips seven hours to diagnose and fix the problem.  Ice warnings had been received on April 11 and 12 and delivered to Captain Smith on the bridge. The equipment was repaired in time to receive four additional warnings on the 13th, and Bride delivered the first one to the Captain.  Captain’s orders specified that the passenger’s personal messages were the priority, and the three later warnings were ignored. 

About 7:30 on the night of April 14, Phillips was manning the telegraph and Bride went to bed.  At 11:40 the Titanic struck an iceberg.  Bride slept through the collision but woke up at 11:55, entering the work room in his pajamas to check up on his boss.  As Bride was preparing to relieve Phillips, the Captain entered, informed the men of the crash and told them to prepare a call for assistance to send on his orders as soon as an inspection was finished. 

Ten minutes later the Captain returned and ordered the international call for help be sent.  Phillips tapped out CQD (Come-Quick-Distress), the call used prior to S-O-S.  The gravity of what happened had not impacted the men yet, and Bride saw some humor in the situation.  He suggested Phillips send S-O-S since it was a new call and this might be his only chance to use it.  Phillips laughed and changed his message.  After the Captain left, the men continued to joke around while they waited for a response.

They got replies from several ships, but the Carpathia was in the closest proximity to the now-sinking vessel.  Forgetting he was still in his pajamas, Bride ran to tell the Captain that help was on the way. He saw passengers swarming on the decks trying to figure out what to do.  When he returned, Phillips reminded him to get some clothes on.  He did, and he brought an overcoat to keep Phillips warm. 

The situation got worse fast.  Phillips announced that the wireless signal was getting weaker, and finally the Captain came to say that the engine rooms were taking on water.  Bride went to his bunk and found his life jacket and put on boots and another coat.  While Phillips continued to send messages, Bride secured a lifebelt around him.  Phillips dispatched Bride to the deck for a status update of what was happening.  Bride helped twelve men lift the last collapsible down to be used to escape.

The Captain walked in while Bride was updating his boss.  Captain Smith praised the men for their work and excused them.  It had reached the point of every man for himself.  Phillips kept sending messages for another ten minutes while Bride collected their personal items.  As if things weren’t bad enough, an employee who worked below decks entered the communications room and tried to steal Phillip’s life belt right off him.  Bride attacked the man and made sure he was no longer a threat. 

SURVIVAL MODE                                 The wireless operators knew it was finally time to go.  While the band played “Autumn,” Phillips headed aft, and Bride went on deck and saw people struggling to get the collapsible into the water.   He helped push and ended up in the frigid water under the capsized raft.  After vigorously swimming 150 feet to get away from the suction of the Titanic, someone pulled Bride up onto the bottom of a raft. 

The small surface area of the collapsible was so crowded with survivors that they overlapped on top of each other.  Someone suggested that they should pray, and they recited The Lord’s Prayer together.  Bride’s feet were painfully injured, but there was nothing he could do.  One man died on the raft. 

When the Carpathia arrived about 4:00 am, one by one they vacated the life boat and ascended the ladder to the ship.  It was then that Bride discovered the dead man was Phillips. 

Bride had just enough strength to climb onboard, but he couldn’t walk. One foot was crushed and the other was frostbitten.  He was taken immediately to the hospital ward, but a few hours later he was pressed into service again and wheeled into the wireless room of the Carpathia to transmit the names of survivors and personal messages.  He ignored all incoming media requests for information and even a communiqué from the president in favor of transmitting the passengers’ notices. He was so caught up in his work that he didn’t realize when they arrived in New York until Guglielmo Marconi came aboard and released him from his duties. 

LIFE AFTER NEAR DEATH            Bride was still wheelchair bound when he testified in an American inquiry into what happened on that fateful night.  He was accused of withholding information on the Carpathia for personal gain, and he had to squelch a rumor that he was taking baseball scores. Bride insisted that he was following the captain’s orders in only dispatching the relevant messages. 

Returning to England was not the relief that it could have been. Bride had to relive his Titanic nightmare for a British inquiry and deal with his fiancé.  He stalled any wedding plans until after the investigation. On September 25, 1912 he met Lucy Downie which gave him the courage to call off the wedding to Ludlow. 

Downie worked in London as a teacher.  This time it was love at first sight for Bride, and he took a job as a telegraphist in the city so they could be together.  They married in April 1920 and had a daughter one year later. 

During World War I Bride served on another ship, and then in 1922 the Brides moved to Scotland in search of a completely different life.  They had two children, and Bride worked as a salesman.  He was a confirmed geek, though, and operated his own radio as a hobby until he died in 1956.

QUESTION:  What is your biggest fear?   How do you help yourself when you feel afraid?

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


CYNTHIA ANN PARKER (1827–1870) White Girl Raised By Comanche Indians

In American History, Biography, History, Kidnappings, Native Americans, People, People from Texas, Uncategorized, women on July 12, 2010 at 8:50 PM

Cynthia Ann Parker After Being Returned to the Parker Family

In August of 1833, Cynthia Ann Parker’s father, Silas M. Parker, took his family on a road trip.  He loaded his wife, five children and all their belongings into the wagons and headed south from Illinois to central Texas. 

The wagon train consisted of 31 families including Parker’s grandparents, uncles and aunts.  It was a long journey and not without incident.  Parker’s brother James was killed when one wagon lost a wheel, and he was hit in the chest by a piece of wood.    

The purpose of the trip was the great American Dream: to apply for a land grant.  Each head of household was awarded a “headright league” of over 4,000 acres, and the Parkers started calling Anderson County, Texas home.   

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD                      The newly arrived settlers were well aware of the potential threat of the local Indians.  In 1834, Cynthia’s uncle, Daniel Parker, led the effort to build Fort Parker in Mexia, Texas, between Dallas and Houston.  Treaties were signed by the homesteaders and many neighboring chiefs leading to a peaceful coexistence, for a while.   

In 1836, when Parker was nine years old, several hundred members of the Caddo, Comanche and Kiowa tribes attacked the fort.  One Indian approached with a white flag accompanied by enough others to indicate that this was a ruse.  Parker’s uncle, Benjamin, tried to negotiate with the attackers to buy time for the women and children to escape.  Those five minutes of diplomacy allowed most of them to flee into the wilderness.  But Uncle Benjamin, Parker’s father, grandfather and two other men were killed.  Parker, her younger brother, a baby and two women were captured by Comanche.   

Within six years, all the captives had been ransomed and returned to their families except Parker, but that was her choice.  As a new Comanche, Parker’s life was difficult.  She was abused and treated like a slave until she was given to a couple who raised her as their own child. Parker was young, so she adapted quickly to her new environment, perhaps first out of survival and then out of devotion.  She adopted the Comanche name of Naduah (“She carries herself with grace”), and became totally integrated into Comanche society, eschewing her white upbringing.  

HOME IS WHERE YOUR HEART IS                             Peta Nocona, one of the war chiefs who invaded Fort Parker, started his own Comanche branch called Noconi.  Sometime around 1840, when Parker was barely a teenager, Nocona married her.  It was customary for the chief to have multiple wives, but Nocona proved his affection by not doing so.  They had three children: sons Quanah (“Fragrant”), a future chief of the tribe, and Pecos (“Pecan”), and daughter Topsanna (“Prairie Flower”).   

Parker became totally contented with and integrated into the Indian lifestyle and refused more than one offer to return to the Parker family.  One time Colonel Leonard G. Williams saw Parker when he was camped with his trading party along the Canadian River.  He offered a ransom of 12 mules and two mule loads of goods to the tribal elders to reclaim her and take her home.  He was refused, and in subsequent sightings, Parker would run away and hide to avoid being traded back.   

On November 27, 1860, Chief Nocona led a raid through Parker County, Texas, named after his wife’s family.  Parker played a supportive role in the attack, and it’s not clear if she knew the land belonged to her relatives.  The bandits attacked three ranches, stole over 300 horses and violated several women.  When they were finished, Nocona and his band hid in a bluff near the Pease River.   

Groups of local citizens tried to hunt down the raiders, but they weren’t successful.  It took three weeks for Captain Lawrence “Sul” Ross of the Texas Rangers to organize a posse of over 140 volunteers seeking revenge.  On December 18, the vigilantes tracked the natives to their hideout, surprised them and dominated them in the ensuing fight.  There were few warriors left in the camp, and Parker’s two sons escaped unharmed.  There is debate over whether Nocona died during the encounter or later.  Even if he didn’t, Parker would never see her husband again.  

Parker was trying to escape on horseback with Topsanna.  Ross chased and finally captured her.  It was a shock to discover that the woman dressed in deerskin and moccasins had blue eyes. Back at camp there was speculation that she looked familiar. Parker tried to communicate with her captors using Comanche and some English, giving credence to theories that she could be the Silas Parker’s daughter who was kidnapped.  Ross sent for Parker’s uncle, Isaac Parker, to see if he could identify her.  When Parker overheard her name being used in the discussion, she patted herself on the chest and said, “Me Cincee Ann.”   

YOU CAN’T TO HOME AGAIN                                      That admission clinched Parker’s destiny.  She and Topsanna were taken back to live with her white family.  At first Parker and her daughter lived with Uncle Isaac’s family.  Her return was celebrated and she was treated like a hero, but that meant nothing to her.  She had to be locked in her room to prevent her from escaping.  The Texas Legislature tried to help her with a pension of $100 a year for five years and a league (about seven square miles) of land, but that did not compensate for her anguish. Nothing could appease the grief she felt leaving her husband and sons behind.  She had been kidnapped and forced to live among people not of her choosing for the second time in her life.   

Parker’s brother took responsibility for his sister and niece, moving them into his house.  They stayed there until he joined the Confederate Army when they went to live with her sister.  Parker led a productive life.  She learned to weave, spin wool and sew.  Neighbors brought over hides for her to tan, and she created home remedies from the local plants and herbs.  She learned to speak English again and was beginning to become literate.  All of the activity, however, could not erase the 24 years she spent as a Comanche, and she never assimilated emotionally to her new life.  

In 1863, Parker got the news that Pecos had died of small pox.  One year later, Topsanna died of pneumonia, and Parker fell into a deep depression.  Her despondency isolated her and she often refused to eat.  She died in 1870 never knowing that her oldest son, Quanah, had become the last Comanche Chief, and ultimately a bridge between the Comanche nation and white settlers.  

QUESTION: How do you react when you’re in a situation outside your comfort zone?  What do you do to fit in?  

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved   



In Biography, French History, French-English Diplomacy, History, People, Transvestites, Trivia on July 6, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Engraving of the Chevalier d'Eon Dressed as a Woman

Charles d’Éon’s life was full of deception.  Was he a spy or a diplomat?  Was he a man or a woman?  The answer to both questions is oui.

To all appearances, d’Éon’s childhood was normal.  He was bookish with lots of friends.  He loved languages, excelled at memorization and received a law degree at age 21.  In his first jobs he had the time and opportunity to do what he loved. His uncle got him work in a finance office where he wrote his first book on French government finances.  Then he became a royal censor where he got paid well to read books.

KEEPING SECRETS                King Louis XV created the Secret du Roi (King’s Secret), a network of spies acting outside the purview of the government and accountable directly to the King.  When d’Éon entered politics in his 20s, he joined the Secret, and his first assignment was in Russia as the assistant to the chargé d’affaires for the Foreign Minister. Empress Elizabeth was looking for a private tutor and secretary, but she would only take a woman into her inner circle.  It was believed that d’Éon had been born a girl and forced into the identity of a boy by his parents.  That and his many other skills made him the perfect person to befriend the Empress. D’Éon reluctantly accepted the assignment, living a dual identity. 

During the Seven Years War, d’Éon joined the army to enhance his reputation and advance his career. He was commissioned as captain in the elite brigade, the Dragoons. D’Éon fought in one campaign and sustained wounds in his head and thigh.  His service and sacrifice were rewarded with the Cross of Saint-Louis.  This recognition raised d’Éon to a noble rank giving him the title of Chevalier.

D’Éon proved himself to be a brave and respected soldier, but his skills as a diplomat were needed again.  He was sent to London as a member of a team to negotiate peace with England.  After the treaty was signed, there was an opening for ambassador.  When he was 35 years old, D’Éon was appointed as interim ambassador.

The treaty was a political and financial disaster for France.  King Louis XV, unbeknownst to his ministers, wanted to rectify the situation by invading England, and members of the Secret were tasked with finding ways to facilitate that.  Again d’Éon had a dual role to fulfill, as temporary ambassador officially representing the government and as a clandestine member of the Secret. 

ABUSE OF POWER                      Three months after his appointment, d’Éon’s rising star started falling fast, putting his career and life in jeopardy.  It seems that he took his position and influence a little too seriously.  Since he came from the Burgundy region of France, wine was a passion and a means of influence.  He lavishly entertained with bottles he’d imported to England at the French government’s expense.  One invoice indicates that d’Éon received 2,800 bottles in one shipment. Then he had the audacity to ask his superiors to advance him money as his personal finances were also a mess. D’Éon was quickly becoming more of a liability than an asset.

When the new ambassador arrived in England, d’Éon was to be demoted to Secretary to the Ambassador, a decision that he aggressively fought.  He wrote scathing letters to his superiors and directly confronted the French foreign minister.  His impudence was alarming, and it was feared that the Secret’s mission would be compromised. 

Upon arrival of the new ambassador, the foreign minister ordered d’Éon back to France, twice. Both times d’Éon refused to comply because the order had not come directly from the King.  In retaliation, d’Éon published all his private letters and papers except those concerning the plans of the Secret. This breach of diplomatic etiquette put the French government in a very difficult situation, especially since the British foreign minister refused to respect an order of extradition because d’Éon had not broken any British laws. 

D’Éon came around to the possibility of returning to France provided several specific conditions were met.  The ultimate compromise was that he could remain in London as a private citizen.  He had generated such valuable contacts, however, that he remained an active member of the Secret.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS           For reasons not fully understood, in 1770 rumors about d’Éon’s gender started spreading throughout the business and political societies of London.  One newspaper claimed as fact that d’Éon was a woman. It became such a hot topic that businessmen were placing bets with the odds at 3:2 that d’Éon was a man. 

D’Éon was very upset by this widespread speculation of such a personal matter, and because he refused to reveal his sex, he became increasingly concerned about his security.  He went into hiding for six weeks and then spent much of the next six years at a friend’s country estate.  By now people on both sides of the channel fully believed that d’Éon was a woman who had been dressing as a man, but he figured out how to use that to his advantage.

CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN   D’Éon knew his political career was at a dead end, and he wanted to return to France.  Louis XV had died, and Louis XVI disbanded the Secret, recognizing it and its mission for the bad political strategy that it was.  D’Éon saw the handwriting on the wall and started negotiating with the King for safe return to France, one of his points being that now he wanted to be recognized as a woman. In order to save the French government embarrassment, d’Éon had to justify his female to male transvestism. His back story explained that his mother was a noble and his father had squandered her dowry, sending the family into debt.  Her family would give them a large inheritance if she had a son.  D’Éon was born a girl but was immediately dressed and treated as a boy to fulfill this requirement. In the creation of this mythical background, d’Éon intimated that the cross-dressing position in Empress Elizabeth’s court was fabricated.

An agreement was reached between d’Éon and King Louis XVI allowing d’Éon to retain the military honors he’d achieved as a man. The King insisted, however, that d’Éon dress and act like a woman.  He acquiesced and in 1779 she became the Chevalière d’Éon and returned to her homeland, spending the next six years living with her mom.  During this time she converted from Catholicism to being a devout Christian, putting her faith in Christ and becoming a devotee of Jansenism.

APPEARANCES ARE DECEIVING   In 1785, d’Éon returned to England and moved in with a widow, Mrs. Cole, depending largely on her for financial support. Although her declining health confined her to the apartment, and often her bed, d’Éon wrote her autobiography which was never published.

D’Éon died in 1810.  As Mrs. Cole was preparing the body for visitation, she was stunned to discover that d’Éon was a man.  She had a professor of anatomy, two surgeons, a lawyer and a journalist all examine the body to determine and report on d’Éon’s true gender.  It was concluded that d’Éon was not female or a hermaphrodite, but the he was a male who had lived half of his life as a woman.

Question:  Do you use clothes to express who you are?  How do your clothes reveal your identity?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved


Kates, Gary. Monsieur d’Eon Is a Woman. New York: Basic Books, 1995.’Eon