The Great Diamond Hoax

Inspired by the 1870 diamond rush in South Africa, the Kentucky-born cousins Philip Arnold and John Slack came up with a plot to "find" a diamond mine in the United States. They settled on the frontier territory of Colorado. So later in 1870s, Philip and John tried to deposit a bag of uncut diamonds at a San Francisco bank. But upon questioning, they quickly left.

The director of the bank, William Ralston, heard about this. And he got exactly the idea the cousins wanted him to get: Ralston decided to buy the "diamond mine" that must have produced those uncut diamonds. To help convince Ralston, the cousins salted (placed diamonds inside) a Colorado mine, then pretended to dig the diamonds up.

Convinced by their trickery, Ralston founded the New York Mining and Commercial Company and invested $600,000 in the cousins. This company was comprised of prominent individuals such as the founder of Tiffany & Co., a former commander of the Union Army, and a US Representative. In total, New York Mining Commercial Company ended up selling stock totaling $10 million. And diamond fever spread, too. Convinced that the American West must have many other major deposits of diamonds, at least 25 other diamond exploration companies formed in the subsequent months.

In 1872, things fell apart. A new-to-the-scene geologist Clarence King began to investigate, first finding the secret mine, then going through its deposits. King noticed that the seemingly random layout of diamonds and rubies was too neat to be natural. Plus, the jewels were only found in areas where the ground had previously been dug. No diamonds or rubies were found in untouched parts of the mine. Those two factors, put together, were enough to convince King that he had uncovered a hoax.

Apparently the cousins could not buy King off, because on November 26, 1872, The San Francisco Chronicle published a letter from King, explaining his findings. King became the first director of the United States Geological Survey thanks to his part in uncovering the hoax, so things turned out well for him.

But Ralston was only able to return $80,000 to each investor in the company, and the cousins disappeared with the $600,000 down payment the company had paid for the mine. Arnold lived out the few remaining years of his life in luxury in Kentucky before dying of pneumonia in 1878. Slack apparently squandered his share of the money, for he was last reported working as a coffin maker in New Mexico.

Your Tudor Fact for the Day

Catherine of Aragon was the first-ever female ambassador in Europe. She was named the ambassador from the kingdom of Aragon to England in 1507.

At the time, Catherine was the 22-year-old widow of the former crown prince, Arthur. He had died in 1502, and Catherine had stayed on in England and become betrothed to the new crown prince, Henry. It was not because Henry particularly wanted her. No, Catherine was still in England because her father-in-law King Henry VII did not want to give back Catherine's very large dowry.

Catherine’s position was precarious. She had little money, as neither her parents nor her penny-pinching father-in-law wished to support her financially. She had no status, as her husband was dead and her betrothed had remained just that for going on three years. Naming Catherine ambassador, therefore, was less a compliment to her diplomatic skills and more a way to bolster her position and therefore her parent’s.

Feathers were highly valued in Hawai'i and were an important part of their religion. Feathers were used in representations of the gods. A high-status cloak made of feathers, called an 'ahu 'ula, was a marker of prestige and power. 'Ahu 'ula were worn with feathered helmets, or mahiole -- a chief would have been decked from head to toe in feathers! When Hawai'i became a kingdom in 1795, they were influenced by the monarchies of Europe, and eventually gave themselves a coat of arms. On it were two figures wearing red and yellow 'ahu 'ula and a mahiole.

Does Time Work Differently in Different Languages?

Different languages have slightly different ways of speaking about time. But does that mean that time itself is understood differently, depending on your language?

Evelyn Bross and Catherine Barscz, a couple, photographed after their arrest for cross-dressing and public indecency. Bross, who was 19 years old at the time, worked as a machinist at a WWII defense plant. But her men's haircut and trousers clearly meant she was a danger to the public! Racine Avenue Police Station, Chicago, USA, on June 5th, 1943.

Is Afghanistan the Graveyard of Empires?

This video reviews three major empires that "died" trying to take Afghanistan: the nascent empire of Alexander the Great, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union.

On May 15th, 1976 this photograph was taken by Robin Hood. It shows Vietnam War veteran Eddie Robinson, sitting in his wheelchair with his son on his lap, watching the Chattanooga Armed Forces Day Parade. The Vietnam War had ended almost exactly 1 year earlier.

The photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1977.

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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