There is something almost mythical about the world of fine art. When amazing works of art are created, we gather around and stare in wonder. When those same works of art mysteriously vanish in the middle of the night, well, that’s an entirely different story. Isabella Stewart Gardner’s Museum is located in Boston. The building hosts Mrs. Gardner’s incredible art collection which includes works by Zorn, Whistler, and Sargent. The mansion itself is equally fascinating as it was designed by William T. Sears in 1903. However, for all the history that the building possesses, what is missing has people talking the most. On March 18th, 1990, two mysterious strangers impersonated policemen in order to steal 13 of the most valuable paintings in the world.
The brazen art heist, dubbed the Gardner Heist, has baffled law enforcement to this day. The crime involved two thieves dressing up as police officers. The men then forced themselves into the museum after hours, overpowering the local guards. In the dead of night, the two thieves stole more than $500 million worth of art. From Vermeer and Rembrandt to Manet, Flinck, and Degas, an entire collection of historical artwork vanished into thin air. For the past thirty years, the FBI has been chasing the ghost of the crime, failing to find a resolution.
The Gardner Heist is considered the largest art-related crime in American history. Following the heist, a $5 million reward was put out for information that led to the return of the artwork. The Museum has since been sent on wild goose chases that have not led to any resolution. In 2017, the museum decided to double the reward to $10 million. Steve Kidder is the president of the board at the Gardner Museum, and he had this to say, “We are the only buyer for these works. They belong in their rightful home.”
What makes the Gardner Heist so fascinating is the fact that there has been no such resolution. In order to keep the stolen paintings in good shape, the thieves would have needed to keep the paintings in a room set to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a 50% humidity rating. It is hard to believe that a pair of thieves would have the resources or the knowledge to keep the paintings in such good shape unless, of course, they’d already been sold to a private buyer.
Arthur Brand is one of the lead investigators on the Gardner Heist. Brand is considered to be one of the finest art detectives in the world. In fact, Brand has been granted the title of, Indiana Jones of the Art World’. Brand has had several successes in finding lost art, most notably recovering work stolen from the Sheringa Museum of Realist Art. Brand calls the Gardner Heist the ‘Holy Grail’ of the art theft world. Brand has worked alongside the FBI in order to pool information. The common belief among law enforcement is that the paintings have remained in the United States over the past thirty or so years.
Brand believes that the paintings have long since left the continent, claiming that he has evidence that the works have found their way to Ireland. Still, Brand isn’t largely concerned about who stole the work or where the paintings are. Brand’s sole goal at this point in time is to recover the priceless art. Brand says, “It’s about getting these pieces back. The art is world heritage!” While Brand is passionate about recovering the artwork, there have still been no new leads in the case. At some point in time, we might have to accept that the work is gone.
A Recovered 1930s Interview Tells The Story Of The Surviving Slavery
Many avid readers enjoy a good book by Zora Neale Hurston. What they may not know about her is that her talents ran much deeper than writing. Unbeknownst to many, she tracked down a man with an extraordinary story to tell. She found not just any man, but the last one that survived being held captive on a ship filled with slaves being transported from Africa to the U.S.
Not only did Hurston find this man, she thoroughly interviewed him as well. Unfortunately, she was not able to put the interview into book form, despite her best efforts. It wasn’t until 2018 that the interview was finally published in the form of a book titled Barracoon: The Story of The Last “Black Cargo.” With the release of Hurston’s book many longtime unanswered questions were suddenly answered.
Barracoon tells the story of a man born with the name Kossula, which later became Cudjo Lewis. When he was born he lived in Benin, a country in West Africa. At the age of 19 he was kidnapped by the Dahomian tribe. Against his will he was moved to the coast and sold as a slave, along with approximately another 120 men. He and the other slaves were forced to reside on the Clotilda, a slave ship which would take them from their home country to America.
In 1860 the ship arrived in Alabama with all captured slaves on board. Despite the declaration in the U.S. that slavery was legal, bringing slaves in from other countries was illegal. The ship arrived in Alabama during overnight hours. They were then confined to an area swamp for a matter of days. For fear of being caught, the kidnappers set the ship on fire. There is a distinct possibility that the remains of the ship were found in early 2018.
Those that read the book will get a firsthand view of the ordeal through Lewis’s eyes. Throughout the book, Lewis expresses how it felt to be sold into slavery against his will. He talks about how even though his fellow slaves lived together on the ship, they were separated once they reached Alabama. Readers experience the pain of the ordeal right along with him.
Lewis talks about how he struggled with being placed on a plantation he felt out of place in. Due to language barriers, he and the plantation workers could not effectively communicate. The frustration Lewis experienced during that time is evident throughout the story. He also shares with Hurston that the Civil War had started and he’d had no idea at the time. He later gained knowledge that the point of the war was to free him and his fellow slaves.
Following Robert E. Lee’s April 1865 surrender, Lewis told Hurston that Union soldiers came to the boat he was working on. They then delivered the news that the slaves had finally be freed . Not content to return to his prior life, Lewis and his fellow freed slaves teamed up to purchase land in Alabama. Located near Mobile, the men transformed the land they christened Africatown.
Though Hurston faced controversy for her handling of the book’s subject matter, she kept the book intact. Much of the book took Lewis’s exact words and put them on paper. At the time she was trying to get it published, this prevented her from being able to do so. As her readers know, Hurston was known for her controversial views on anthropology and not shying away from dialogue considered vernacular. Much of that is evident in this book.
When Trucking Leads to Change
The United States decision to resupply the Israeli military marked the beginning of a national crisis. In response to this decision, Arab members of the OPEC banned exports of petroleum to the United States and other supporting countries of Israel. Subsequently, oil prices quadrupled, and the economy begin to suffer. One of the people affected by this crisis was JW Edwards, A meat truck driver from Overland Park, Kansas. In an attempt to financially survive the crisis, Edwards and other truck drivers made up code names to let each other know where to find diesel fuel; however, this this did not last very long, as many gas stations did not supply enough diesel to meet trucker demand. No gas meant no deliveries, and no deliveries meant no money. Not only was there no gas, but there had been talk of changing the maximum speed limit to fifty-five miles per hour. Edwards knew that if this continued for too long, he would be forced out of business. “I had to take things into my own hands.” he said. “My family was depending on me.”
On the night of December 3rd, while passing through Blakeslee, Pennsylvania Edwards ran out of gas in the middle of the interstate. He had had enough. He picked up his CB radio and invited other nearby truckers to come block the interstate in protest.
When John Robinson, a local trucker from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania heard Edwards on the radio, he headed that way to show his support. Robinson knew and understood Edwards’ frustration all to well as he and his family were also feeling the affects of the oil crisis. He had been in the trucking business for thirty years, hauling lumber from state to state. Not only was this his families only source of income, but at the time, his wife had recently given birth to their fourth child. “Some nights he would come home and not say nothing,” remembers Mrs. Robinson. “I knew that he was worried, but I trusted that he would figure it out.”
The protest stretched nearly twelve miles, causing a standstill for nearly one thousand vehicles. It wasn’t long before truckers in other states followed the lead. The protest caught national attention, and although some state leaders promised changed, gas prices continued to rise. Since the protest had begun, food shortages were on the rise and the economy was a mess due to the over 100,00 people who were now unemployed.
It wasn’t until a group of six truckers from the Independent Driving Association decided to come together to speak with government officials that things begin to get better. Government officials agreed to ensure that the truck stops had enough diesel fuel to meet the demands of the truckers. They also worked together to appeal the decision to decrease the maximum speed limit.
In March of 1974, approximately six months after it had all started the embargo ended. Negotiations between Israel and Syria were finalized. The affects of the crisis however, including the high fuel prices, lasted throughout the 1970s.
The Start of the U.S. Oil Industry: A Gusher on This Day in 1901
More than 100 years ago on this very day, the United States’s Oil Industry was born. In 1901, a derrick was drilling just outside of Beaumont, Texas on Spindletop Hill. During this process, a large amount of crude oil began gushing out of the ground, billowing into the air. It coated the landscape in all directions for hundreds of feet. With this celebratory burst, the oil industry was born. This oil geyser was buried about 1,000 feet underground and began putting out 100,000 barrels per day. It took more than a week for the workers to regain control of the situation. From this oil, the refineries got their start. Petroleum, which had been used as a lubricant in the past, started to be used for gas. This gasoline would go on to power numerous modes of transportation including trains, ships, cars, and planes.
What is Crude Oil?
From this geyser, often termed “black gold,” crude oil would become the first industry in the world to be valued at more than one trillion dollars. This valuable liquid is a mixture of a variety of hydrocarbon molecules and compounds. It is trapped deep underneath the surface of the earth in rocks. This liquid forms over the course of millions of years. During this time, small plants and animals died and settled on the bottom of various waterways. As this material was buried and placed under a large amount of pressure, it began to heat up. Then, it melted into a liquid that became the petroleum we know as crude oil today.
The Rise of the Crude Oil Industry
The search for crude oil began decades prior to this first geyser. During the 1890s, a geologist and businessman from Texas named Patillo Higgins believed that there was oil underneath the hill outside of Beaumont. He gathered up several business partners and founded a business that set out drilling throughout the area looking for this black gold. He named his company the Gladys City Oil, Gas, & Manufacturing Company. Although his company had made a variety of unsuccessful drilling attempts, he was persistent. Just before 1900, Higgins leased a small amount of land on Spindletop to an engineer in the mining industry named Anthony Lucas. On January 10, 1901, Lucas hit his mark and the liquid billowed into the air. Although at this point Higgins had surrendered his stake in the business, he had made his mark on history.
Rapid Growth for the Crude Oil Industry
Thanks to the discovery, Beaumont exploded. It became known as a boomtown thanks to the discovery of crude oil and the business that came with it. During the three months after the discovery by Lucas and Higgins, the population of the small town would triple. There were all sorts of people flooding the town ranging from merchants, oil workers, engineers, investors, and even con men. The con and scam problems became so bad that many people nicknamed the hill Swindletop. By 1902, there were close to 300 wells that were active on that fateful hill that were being run by more than 500 companies specializing in oil. Many of these companies are still active today including Exxon (called Humble), Texaco (called the Texas Company), and Mobil (called the Magnolia Petroleum Company). Spindletop would go on to experience a handful of booms as more and more oil was discovered. A second discovery took place in the 1920s and then a sulfur discovery gave rise to another boom in the 1950s. By this time, only a few scattered oil wells are still active in the Spindletop area.
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