Fake Histories #33  Is Elvis still taking care of business?

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Depending on when you were born, Elvis Presley—who died forty-two years ago today—was the King of Rock and Roll and a practising demi-God, or a morbidly obese Las Vegas cabaret singer who didn’t even write his own songs. It largely depends on whether you were born in the forties—in which case he was a genius—or the fifties—in which case you were more of a Beatles type anyway.

Falling squarely into the latter category I was one of those people who was puzzled at the mawkish outpouring of grief when Elvis died on 16 August 1977 and those spangly white costumes, which latterly had almost been painted on to his frame, were no more. Personally, I was more affected by the death of the great Groucho Marx the same week.

As is the case with most icons there are many myths surrounding the life, times and music of Elvis Presley. Among these is the notion that Presley and Oprah Winfrey are related. Which occasionally morphs into the narrative that Oprah’s ancestors were once slaves on the Presley estate. This, however, is hard to reconcile with the idea of Elvis being descended from an impoverished line of Mississippi sharecroppers who were forced to shoot, skin and eat squirrels to stay alive. Plantation owners were more of the ‘mint julep on the porch’ variety.

Then there is the rumour that Elvis had a pet chimpanzee named Scatter who died of alcoholic poisoning. Well, this one definitely has at least an element of truth about it. Elvis had a lot of pets, and one of them was a chimpanzee named Scatter who often dressed, like his owner, in Hawaiian shirts. Whether or not he was spoon-fed liquor and died as a result, however, remains merely a nasty rumour.

But, of course, the abiding myth that surrounds Elvis is that he is still ‘taking care of business’, holed up somewhere with that other great immortal Jim Morrison. Neither man, thousands of people fervently hold as an act of blind faith,  ever left the building.

Apparently, the King’s Graceland mansion included a secret tunnel dating back to the days of the Underground Railroad, when slaves were smuggled out of the South to freedom in the North. Elvis is supposed to have abandoned his career by means of this nineteenth-century convenience, rather than actually having died of a heart attack on his own twentieth-century convenience. He is then alleged to have purchased a ticket to Buenos Aires in the name of John Burrows the day after his faked death. Why is this significant, you ask? And I will tell you, as breathlessly as possible. The man who bought the ticket looked very Elvish and the alias ‘John Burrows’ was often used by Presley’s management team when booking hotel rooms for him anonymously.

Presleyean conspiracy theorists also point to the misspelling of his middle name on his gravestone as a clear indication of an intention to simulate his own demise. Now when you look at this gravestone it clearly reads ‘Elvis Aaron Presley’, the spelling being all present and correct. Except, apparently, Elvis’s middle name on his birth certificate was spelt ‘A-R-O-N’ as opposed to the more conventional ‘A-A-R-O-N.’ Which monumental typo, obviously demonstrates a clear intent to leave a wax dummy in your open coffin and do a bunk for Argentina where your savings would immediately have been eroded by rampant inflation.

The wax dummy theory, by the way, is lent credence by the weight of the coffin, which clocked in at nine hundred pounds. This was, supposedly, because it housed an air conditioning unit to prevent the wax from melting in the August Tennessee heat. Clearly, it had nothing to do with the fact that Elvis himself weighed almost nine hundred pounds at the time of his death.

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Between 1977 and 1981 six of his new releases became top ten singles. This prompted people unfamiliar with the concept of ‘recording’ or ‘archive’ to assume that he was still active in the music business. He was also said to have appeared as an extra in the film Home Alone thirteen years after his faked death. Sightings of him are now more frequent than those of the much older and more credible Loch Ness monster. You can expect him to turn up soon doing tours of Graceland, and for the first miracles to be cited in his name.

So, is Elvis still alive somewhere, possibly working as a vaquero on the Argentinian Pampas, at the grand old age of eighty-four? Well, we should probably assume that he was dead when an autopsy was performed on his body and, tentatively and regrettably, accept this as fake history.

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Fake Histories #32   Beachboy Dennis Wilson barely escaped being murdered by the Manson gang in 1969?

 

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According to the writer Joan Didion the 1960s may have ended fifty years ago today. Technically she was out by four months and twenty-two days, but Didion was writing about a shocking event that banished the optimism, playfulness, and naivety of that decade. Because it was half a century ago today that a promising young actor named Sharon Tate, wife of film director, Roman Polanski, was murdered in Los Angeles. She wasn’t the only victim, four others were slaughtered along with her, as was her unborn son.

They were the victims of a  demented cult or a devious group of psychopathic killers covering up a crime committed by one of their members, that’s depending on which account you read. They were, or so the California courts were told, under the guidance and tutelage of a quasi-Messianic figure named Charles Manson, a petty criminal released from prison in March 1967. A number of personal and second-hand accounts have been written about the rampage of Manson’s acolytes—including the best-selling ‘true crime’ novel of all time, Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi, who was one of the team that prosecuted Manson in 1970. Their accounts are contradictory and in the case of cult members trying to impress parole boards with the level of their penitence, utterly unreliable.

Ironically, Manson was not present at Tate crime scene, much of the murderous work was carried out by two of the memoirists, Susan Atkins and Charles ‘Tex’ Watson. In addition to the five so-called ‘Tate’ murders, the Manson gang went on to kill a Los Angeles couple, Leno and Rosemary La Bianca and were also found guilty of two more killings, a body count of nine over a period of three weeks.

And it didn’t all end in 1970 when many of the members of the cult were jailed for life, or handed hefty prison terms. Another member of the group, Lynette Fromme, nicknamed ‘Squeaky’, who avoided jail in 1970, made a name for herself in 1975 when she attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford with a .45 semi-automatic pistol. Twelve years later she broke out of prison and, apparently, went in search of Manson who, she had heard, had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. She was recaptured within two days and was released in 2009 after thirty-four years in jail. Manson died in prison in 2017 after being incarcerated for forty-eight years.

But amid the horror of their crimes one, often overlooked, episode in the preamble to the murders was the relationship between the so-called Manson ‘family’ and the mercurial Dennis Wilson, drummer, and co-founder of the Beach Boys. Wilson had picked up two female members of the family hitchhiking, brought them to his home, and left for a recording session. When he returned it was to find Manson, and a number of his followers, ensconced in his house. Instead of calling the police Wilson befriended Manson, who saw himself as a budding rock star. Wilson was sufficiently impressed with Manson’s songwriting abilities to record him in his brother Brian’s studio. Wilson even persuaded the Beach Boys to cover one of Manson’s songs—originally entitled ‘Cease to Exist’ – this was changed to the more innocuous ‘Never Learn Not to Love’—as a B-side. When Manson was not credited on the record the relationship turned sour. Manson is said to have threatened to kill Denis Wilson and was beaten up by Wilson as a result.

But to allege that Wilson might have been a specific target for the murderous activities of the Manson gang is something of a stretch. It presupposes a level of organisation, and homicidal mentoring on the part of Manson himself, that doesn’t appear to exist outside of the myth-making of Vincent Bugliosi’s best-selling Helter Skelter. While Manson, and many of his acolytes, were undoubtedly evil, they were not evil geniuses. Neither did they necessarily kill at the behest of Manson himself. Their atrocities, far from being commanded by a charismatic guru figure, may have been ‘copy-cat’ murders designed to convince LA Police that they had arrested another ‘family’ member, Robert Beausoleil, in error, for the killing of a drug dealer.

Wilson certainly forked out a lot of money to the Manson ‘family’—much of to treat the STDs of the famously promiscuous cult members—he even walked out of his own house and left Manson in situ when their relationship turned nasty. But there is no evidence that Manson had any plans to do away with Beach Boy drummer Dennis Wilson. That’s fake history.

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Fake Histories #31  – The Irish tricolour was first unveiled when it was flown over the GPO in 1916?

 

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He was one of the most colourful and erratic characters in 19thcentury Irish history. Thomas Francis Meagher was born to a wealthy Waterford merchant family in 1823. He was educated by the Jesuits at Clongowes wood and later at Stonyhurst in England, where he replaced his Irish accent with a clipped upper-class English drawl – something that was to alienate many of his fellow-countrymen in the years that followed.

His involvement with the Young Ireland movement in the 1840s led to his falling out with Daniel O’Connell and a drift towards militancy. This culminated in the farcical 1848 rebellion – but before that dismal revolutionary failure, Meagher had conferred on the Irish nation perhaps his most abiding legacy – the green, white and orange tricolour. He had been gifted the flag on a visit to France, it was unveiled in his native Waterford in 1848, and its use in the 1916 rising copper-fastened its status as the flag of the Irish republic. It gained formal recognition in Article 7 of the 1937 constitution.

Meagher’s involvement in the 1848 rebellion led to his transportation to Tasmania. 1852 he escaped to the USA where, arguably, he made a greater contribution to American history than he did to that of his native country.

His most significant impact came after the outbreak of the Civil War. Taking over command of the Irish brigade from Michael Corcoran he proved to be an excellent recruiter for the Union army.  Knowing his target market well one of Meagher’s recruiting posters read –‘The Cotton Lords and Traitor Allies of England Must Be Put Down Once and for All.’

To his detractors, of whom there were many, Meagher was a self-important, fractious and pompous alcoholic. But to his troops he was their General, known to one and all in the Irish Brigade as ‘Meagher of the Sword’. His reputation was sealed by an iconic engraving of the celebrated American artists Currier and Ives in which he was depicted on horseback leading the Irish Brigade into the Battle of Fair Oaks in June 1862.

After the Civil War, Meagher was rewarded by the US administration—if indeed it can be described as a reward—with something called the secretaryship of the territory of Montana.  This may sound like he was expected to take minutes of a lot of meetings, but that is not how things turned out. On Meagher’s arrival in the future capital of the state, Helena, the sitting governor just upped and left. That should probably have served as a warning to the Waterford man that perhaps he too should make his excuses and scarper.

Instead, Meagher became acting governor of the territory and found himself in charge of a large and relatively lawless region of the American West. Not all the inhabitants were friendly. The assertive Lakota nation disputed the writ of the Federal government in suitably muscular fashion. In addition to an Indian war, Meagher also found himself in the middle of some vicious factional disputes among the tiny white population. As Meagher had something of a shortish fuse he didn’t take long to make enemies.  Indeed it may have been his political adversaries who were responsible for his mysterious death on 1 July 1867. He died at Fort Benton on the Missouri river when he disappeared from a steamboat. His body was never found. It was presumed to have been whisked away rapidly by the fierce river currents. Various theories have been advanced as to the cause of his death, the most popular is that he was drunk and fell overboard. Others suggest he was killed by native Americans, renegade Confederates or Montanan political enemies. We shall never know.

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Statues honour the man who gave us the Irish tricolour, in the Mall in Waterford, and outside the Capitol building in Helena, Montana. Both depict him on horseback waving his sword. There is also a bust of the man near the spot where he disappeared more than 150 years ago.

So, in answer to the question was the Irish tricolour first unveiled when it was flown over the GPO in 1916, no it wasn’t. That event took place in the city of Waterford sixty-eight years before the Easter Rising.  [It’s fake history].