A Mystery Writer’s Almanac–Dueling
On February 20 in 1839, Congress prohibits dueling inside the District of Columbia, presumably after the failure the previous year to create a Constitutional amendment banning it. The popularity of fighting duels remains firm in various regions of America, especially on the western frontier, throughout the nineteenth century, and becomes a staple of western movies and romance novels alike.
A Mystery Writer’s Almanac—Bait for Criminals
On this day in 1812, Charles Lewis Tiffany is born. With a partner he begins a stationery and fancy goods store in 1837 in Lower Manhattan. By 1841 the store is manufacturing its own line of jewelry, and in 1853—having assumed control of the business—Tiffany shifts the business’s emphasis to jewelry. The rest, as they say, is history—all wrapped up in a distinctive robin’s-egg blue box.
A Mystery Writer’s Almanac–Seattle Riot of 1886
On this day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland declared martial law in Seattle and sent in troops to enforce order. Anti-Chinese feelings in the city, prompted by competition for jobs in an economically gloomy period, had led to several months of street skirmishes. Mobs were forcing Chinese residents from their homes and putting them on outbound ships in the harbor. Other groups tried to defend the Chinese, and the resulting clashes led to ongoing violence.
This 1886 illustration of the rioting is from Harper’s Weekly, courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.
A Mystery Writer’s Almanac—The Petrified Forest
On this day in 1936, Warner Bros. releases “The Petrified Forest,” starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Based on the stage play by Robert E. Sherwood that ran on Broadway the year before, it gave Humphrey Bogart his first theatrical lead as gangster Duke Mantee. When the studio made the film version, Leslie Howard insisted Bogart recreate his role on film. The part made Bogart a star and he and his wife, Lauren Bacall, subsequently named their daughter Leslie Howard Bogart in Howard’s honor.
On this day in 1997, Miami nightclub owner and Ukranian mobster Ludwig “Tarzan” Fainberg is charged with trying to buy a Russian nuclear submarine for $5.5 million to smuggle cocaine to the U.S. for Colombian drug lords. Fainberg gets high marks for creativity, but falls short of actual success.
On February 5, 1980 PBS broadcast its first episode of a new anthology series called Mystery! The original host, the Today show’s film critic Gene Shalit, remained for only a year before he was replaced by Vincent Price and later Diana Rigg.
On the second of February in 1922, body of motion picture director William Desmond Taylor is discovered in his home with a gunshot in his back. Police pursue all likely leads in hopes of capturing his murderer. Many of their suspects, in fact, represent some of the most famous silent film personalities of the day. Despite efforts, however, Taylor’s death remains one of the great unsolved mysteries in Hollywood history.
For further reading on the case, see Robert Giroux’s A Deed of Death, available on Amazon.