Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Typo? Or a Hoax? The Story of the Infamous Wicked Bible

Marked_Wicked_bibleThe Holy Bible consistently ranks as the top selling book and the world. An inspiration to millions of faithful, it is seen by many as the direct word of God. Whether this is true or not is more a matter of belief. What is true, however, is that the very physical form the Bible takes is produced by the hands of fallible humans.

The results of this collision between the human and the holy can be downright funny at times. One such incident occurred in 1631, when a seemingly innocent typo drastically changed one of the Ten Commandments. The resulting text caused quite a stir in its day. Known as “The Wicked Bible,” those copies of the text that survived destruction remain today as one of the rarest and sought after printings of the Bible in the world.


The Birth of Wickedness

King Charles I

King Charles I

The story began innocently enough. King Charles I of England ordered 1,000 copies of the King James Bible from London printers, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas. Now, it needs to be understood that printing then was not as simple as it is today. Early printing presses required printers to set each letter of type by hand. The process was painstaking and tedious, although it was leaps and bounds better than the previous method for producing books, which required people to laboriously copy texts by hand. Even so, printing was an error prone process, one that required careful proofreaders with sharp eyes to catch mistakes.

Evidently, Barker and Lucas’ proofreader was bad at his job, because a critical mistake made it into the edition. It was not discovered until after the 1,000 copy run was already being sold. One of the Ten Commandments, the seventh to  be exact, was missing the word “not.” So, the text read: “Thous shalt commit adultery.”

Needless to say, the mistake (if a mistake it was) caused a ruckus. King Charles I and the Archbishop of Canterbury were outraged at the typo. Barker and Lucas were hauled into court, where they were fined £300 (£35,000 in today’s money) and stripped of their printing license. All available copies of the so-called “Wicked Bible” were rounded up and destroyed. It is said that only a dozen survived, although some question that number because so many copies were sold before the alteration was found. In any case, it is a rare book that is highly sought after by collectors. It is hard to place a value on such a text, as other factors such as the quality of the specimen enter into the equation. Taking that into account, one copy is listed at $99,500. Most copies are probably worth far less, as this is a full retail price, but it does give an impression as to how much collectors might be willing to pay for this rare book.


A typo? Or a prank?

A wood-cut of a late medieval printing press in action.

A wood-cut of a late medieval printing press in action.

The generally accepted notion is that the infamous omission of the word “not” was a simple mistake resulting from the cumbersome and error prone 17th century printing process. However, there are some reasons to believe this might have been a deliberate act. The first is that there is another such error, this one in the Book of Deuteronomy. In chapter 5, verse 24, the word “greatness” was replaced with “great arse.” So the text read that God showed his glory and “great arse.”

One unfortunate typo is one thing, but two starts to show a pattern. George Abbot, the Archbisop of Canterbury, thought the error was due to shoddy workmanship. He was quoted saying:

“I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned.”

It is interesting to note that he said that the composers were “boyes.” The errors do have a sophomoric nature, especially the “great arse” line. It sounds like something a bored teenager would slip into a text if they thought no one was looking. Perhaps the printers hired the late medieval equivalent of temp workers, and a disgruntled young man subtly altered the text of the print to thumb his nose at his employer, or simply for the fun of it. Maybe he expected the “corrector” to catch the error before the book printed.

We can never know for sure whether this was the case or not. Simple human error could have inadvertently created one  of the most infamous Bibles in history, but due to the nature of the “typos” a bored prankster seems more likely. Either way, the Wicked Bible will remain a historical curiosity, a testament to the fact that even humanity’s holiest works can be subject to a very human quality: imperfection.



An Enduring Cold War Mystery–The Assassination of Georgi Markov

"Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

“Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –

The Cold War was a strange, tumultuous time in our history, full of odd happenings and intrigue. Some real-life incidents are stranger than anything concocted for a James Bond film. Perhaps the most infamous of these incidents was the assassination of the Bulgarian writer and political dissident, Georgi Markov, who died in September 1978, three days after an assassin injected a ricin laden pellet into his leg using an air powered gun concealed as an umbrella. The event spawned a mystery that even the legendary Scotland Yard has yet to solve: who killed Georgi Markov?


A Veil of Secrecy

In order to understand the assassination, it is important to get at least some idea of what went on in Communist Bulgaria, particularly the culture of secrecy and paranoia that would make such a heinous act possible. This is difficult, as many records from that time period are gone, up in smoke in the wake of the collapse of Communism in the early 90s.

Still, some facts are well known. Bulgaria was among the most repressive of the Warsaw Pact nations, and it had close ties with the Soviet Union. The dictator running the show at the time of the assassination was a die hard Communist by the name of Todor Zhikov, who ruled his country with an iron fist. Like most paranoid dictators, he crushed any opposition ruthlessly.

"Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B0115-0010-066, Berlin, VI. SED-Parteitag, Warnke, Shiwkow - Zhivkov" by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0115-0010-066 / Schaar, Helmut / CC-BY-SA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons -

Tidor Zhivkov “Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B0115-0010-066, Berlin, VI. SED-Parteitag, Warnke, Shiwkow – Zhivkov” by Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0115-0010-066 / Schaar, Helmut / CC-BY-SA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Commons –

This is where Georgi Markov enters the picture. Markov was an author and playwright who was well regarded in Communist Bulgaria for his works. However, as time wore on and the abuses of the regime became more apparent, Markov’s work became increasingly critical of Communism in general and Zhivkov in particular. The writer began receiving death threats from Bulgarian security forces, and was the victim of at least two assassination attempts.

Markov defected to the West in 1969. He moved to London, where he began to work for the BBC World Service. He also did work for Radio Free Europe. a radio station that broadcast across the iron curtain, where he continued to criticize the Zhivkov regime.

Nine years after defecting, on September 7, 1978, Markov was waiting for a buss on Waterloo Bridge when his old enemies caught up with him in the form of an unidentified assailant who jabbed him in the leg with the tip of an umbrella, squeezed a hidden trigger, and injected the unsuspecting author with a tiny pellet of ricin, one of the world’s deadliest poisons. He died three days later in a London hospital.


A Twisted Web

800px-New_Scotland_Yard_sign_3The easy answer to the question of who killed Georgi Markov is that the Bulgarian state was responsible. While this is true, it does not get to the specifics of the case–who actually pulled the trigger? Who supported the trigger man? Who made the weapon, especially the poison?

In the 30+ years since the killing, the Bulgarian state has done little to advance the investigation. Obviously, Communist Bulgaria was not going to fess up to killing a dissident on foreign soil. Modern Bulgaria is looking to move on from its dark past, and would rather forget the whole killing even happened.

The investigation then has been left to Scotland Yard, and various journalists who have taken an interest in the case. However, their efforts have been hampered by the actions the Bulgarian secret services took on the wake of the collapse of Communism. Many records related to the killing were destroyed by the former Bulgarian intelligence chief, General Vladimir Todorov, who served 16 months in prison for the crime. Still, vigilant investigators have managed to uncover an astonishing amount about who was involved in the crime on that September day. They even managed to discover the identity of a man closely linked to the killing; he may even be the killer himself.

In the immediate years after the fall of Communism, two Soviet spies came forward with information regarding the Markov case. The first was a Russian-British double agent named Oleg Gordievski. He claimed that the weapon used in the killing–both the umbrella and the ricin itself–was supplied by the Soviet Union’s spy service, the KGB. He went on to claim that the murder itself was conducted by Bulgarian agents. The second former spy, a man named Oleg Kalugin,  made the claim that non other than Todor Zhikov ordered the assassination. Naturally, the former dictator never admitted to any part in the killing.


A Viable Suspect?

While these revelations cleared away some of the fog surrounding Markov’s death, they shed no light on the identity of the killer himself. However, in 2005, a Bulgarian journalist struck gold after doing six years of research in the old security service archives. He found files implicated a man named Francesco Gullino, a Danish citizen originally born in Italy, as a suspect. Gullino was arrested at the Bulgarian border in1970 for smuggling drugs. From these dubious beginnings, Gullino was recruited into the Bulgarian spy apparatus. He used his antique business as a front for his clandestine activities, and received the equivalent of thousands of dollars in payouts from the Bulgarian government during the years he served. His code name was “Agent Piccadilly.”

Records show that Gullino flew to London three times in 1977 and 1978. He left the city on a flight for Rome the day after Markov was poisoned. The same records indicate that Gullino was the only Bulgarian agent present in London at the time. This would strongly suggest that he was the trigger-man, although other investigators claim that Gullino was not trained to kill but rather acted to facilitate the killing by transporting the weapon. According to this theory, as many as five people were involved in the assassination.

For its part, Scotland Yard remains mum on the matter, refusing to comment on an open case. Gullino himself, who lives in a small Austrian village, also refuses to speak much on the matter. He does admit that he was working for the Bulgarians at the time of the killing, however. While not an admission of guilt, it does build up the case against him.

Even so, there is still hope for a resolution to this mystery. The statute of limitations for the murder in Bulgaria ran out in 2008, so any murderer would not be brought to justice in Markov’s homeland. While the Bulgarian government itself has no interest in justice for Markov, the Bulgarian people have a renewed interest in the matter. His literary works and principled stand against Communism have attracted new notice in Bulgaria, and new interest in his chilling end. Perhaps this new interest will spur the Bulgarian government to make a new effort to solve the case and remove this particular stain from the country’s tattered history. There may yet be justice for Georgi Markov.



The World’s First Intercontinental Bombers–The Japanese Balloon Bombs

Japanese_fire_balloon_MoffettAfter the terrible suffering inflicted by World War II, America emerged as one of the world’s two superpowers. Much of America’s success after the war lay in the fact that it emerged from the conflagration with its homeland mostly unscathed, However, this was not due to a lack of effort on the part of her adversaries.

We have already  covered Hitler’s secret submarine attack on the East Coast, and the Nazi’s plans to construct a suborbital intercontinental bomber. But for all of the German technological know-how, it was the Japanese who were able to reach across the vast ocean and bomb the American homeland from the air. They utilized a surprisingly low tech solution to the problem–they used balloons, thousands of them, mounted with incendiaries and anti-personnel bombs. Pushed along by invisible air currents far above the surface, these dastardly weapons were intended to cause chaos and confusion, disrupting the American war effort and giving Japan much needed breathing room.


Project Fugo

In 1944, the Japanese were desperate to find a way to take the fight to America. Three years after waking the sleeping giant with the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese were on the ropes. Her navy destroyed, her armies routed, and her homeland threatened, Japan needed a way to relieve some of the pressure from the relentless American war machine. For hope, they looked to the skies.

Earlier in the war, Japanese scientists had mapped atmospheric air currents by launching weather balloons laden with measuring instruments from the west side of Japan and recovering them on the east side. These tests revealed a strong current of air blowing across the Pacific at 30,000 feet.

As the war lurched toward its conclusion, they put this meteorological knowledge to good use in a project called Fugo. The plan called for the construction of thousands of light weight paper balloons, which were outfitted with incendiary devices and anti-personnel bombs linked with intricate triggering mechanisms. They would be released into the jet stream and hopefully drift over the United States before dropping their payloads. The designers hoped their weapons would cause huge forest fires in the Pacific Northwest, causing panic and disrupting the war effort.

For the most part, the bombs were ineffective. Of the 9,000 or so of the weapons launched, only about an estimated 1,000 made it the America. Most were lost in the ocean, or fell to the earth without detonating. Tragically, one of these devious devices was all too effective.


May 5, 1945

Near Klamath Falls, in Oregon, a Sunday school teacher named Elyse Mitchell, who was pregnant, and her husband Reverend Archie Mitchell were driving five teenaged students to a Saturday afternoon picnic. When Elyse started to feel sick, the Reverend pulled over the sedan and everyone piled out. The Reverend struck up a conversation with  a construction crew about fishing, while Elyse and the students walked away. They’d wandered about 100 yards when Elyse called out to her husband, “Look what I found, dear,” They would be her last words.

An explosion ripped through the quiet afternoon air. When the Reverend and the construction crew reached the site of the blast, Elyse and the five students were dead or dying, their bodies strewn around a one foot gouge in the ground.

These unfortunate six were the only known casualties caused by Project Fugo. Other bombs caused minor structural damage, and one lucky hit temporarily blacked out a nuclear weapons plant in Hanford, Washington. Most did nothing more than leave a hole in the ground and cause a bit of fright and confusion. Project Fugo ended soon after it began, when American bombing destroyed the hydrogen plants the provided the lighter than air gas necessary to create the balloons. Besides that, the Japanese military was skeptical of the weapon system’s effectiveness, and thought the precious hydrogen resources could be better used elsewhere.

For as simple as these weapons were, their relative effectiveness was impressive. The fact that a fragile paper balloon could make the trek across the Pacific Ocean intact was amazing in and of itself. Some of the weapons penetrated as far as northern Michigan. Now and then, a forester or a road crew will find a device from Project Fugo lodged in the ground, still lethal remnants of a bygone era that are typically detonated in place.



An Epilogue to Assassination: The Rathbone Tragedy

Major Henry Rathbone

Major Henry Rathbone

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s theater on April 14, 1856, a war weary nation was rocked  by the tragic, violent death of the leader who had led them their darkest hour. The tragedy of Lincoln’s final hours would overshadow a lesser known incident that would befall two other present in the Presidential Booth that fateful night. Clara Harris and Major Henry Rathbone, friends to the President and First Lady, could never know the impact the horrific attack would have on the remainder of their lives. The couple would be haunted by both the events of that fateful evening and the ever-present specter of mental illness, culminating in a murder dubbed by the 19th century American press by the simple but apt named, the Rathbone Tragedy.


An Up and Coming Couple

Clara Harris, aged 30 at the time of the assassination, was the daughter of Senator Ira Harris of New York. From a family of means, she was a cultured woman well liked in top Washington social circles, and an intimate friend of none other than the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Henry Rathbone was the son of Pauline Rathbone, a wealthy widow who married Ira Harris in 1848. Harris brought a son of his own to the mixed family, a boy named Henry, and three daughters: Amanda, Louise, and Clara. In addition to Henry, Pauline also had a son named Jared.

Despite growing together as step siblings, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone planned marry. Henry had studied law in college, and later joined the Army, Where he worked a desk job until the outbreak of the Civil War. As the war began its early phases, Henry became an officer of the 12th Infantry.

He participated in the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Fredricksburg, and although he did not participate in the worst of the fighting, the war took its toll on the young officer, who according to contemporary sources was a man of frail health even under the best of circumstances. He suffered a string of illnesses, but continued to return to active service against doctor’s advice. By 1865, with the war winding down, he finally relented and took another desk job, this time in Washington D.C.

With the end of four long years of war, the mood in the Union capital was celebratory, and even the often melancholic Abraham Lincoln allowed himself to feel some of the Jubilation. He and Mary Todd decided to see the comedy Our American Cousin at the Ford’s Theater. To accompany them, the couple originally invited the hero of the hour, Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife Julia, but the Grants turned down the invitation, opting to visit their children in New Jersey instead. No doubt, this refusal was due in part to the fact that Mary Todd and Julia did not get along well at all. With that particular invitation turned down, the President and Mary Todd decided instead to invite their young friends and an up and coming couple in Washington’s elite social circle, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone.


A Dark Truth Behind a Prosperous Facade

800px-The_Assassination_of_President_Lincoln_-_Currier_and_Ives_2The events of that April evening are well known. John Wilkes Booth, famous actor and Southern sympathizer, entered the Presidential Box and shot Lincoln in the back of the head with a Derringer pistol. Major Rathbone attempted to wrestle the gun away from the assassin, but only succeeded in getting stabbed in the arm with a Bowie knife for his troubles. Boothe escaped, famously leaping from the balcony and yelling, “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” (“Death to Tyrants!”). The assassin escaped in the confusion. Lincoln would die of his wound the next day. The other injured party, Major Henry Rathbone, severely wounded and delirious from blood loss, would survive, but he would never be the same again.

Two years after the assassination, Clara and Henry were  married. They lived in a twenty-two room mansion in Washington D.C. Major Rathbone still served in the Army, but had no real need to as both he and Clara were heirs to substantial fortunes. The couple would have three children, the oldest of whom was born in 1870, on Lincoln’s birthday.

Despite the appearance of happiness and prosperity, all was not well in the Rathbone household. Henry was plagued with a long list of mysterious illnesses for the rest of his life. Symptoms included heart palpitations, trouble breathing, and painful digestive issues. By the time his eldest son was born in 1870, perhaps due to these health woes or perhaps due to his deteriorating mental health, Rathbone resigned from the Army.

While Rathbone did not need to work due to his wealth, by 1877 his friends were lobbying Rutherford B. Hayes’ administration hard to get him a State Department posting in Denmark. Perhaps the push was because they saw his growing paranoia and erratic behavior. By this time, Rathbone had become convinced that Clara was going to leave him and take the children. His well meaning friends may have thought a posting with the State Department would help allay these fears. Despite their efforts, the administration posted another man to the position.

Eventually, Rathbone got his overseas posting–a Consulship in Hanover, Germany. In 1883, Major Rathbone and his family, including Clara’s sister, who she insisted come along, sailed from New York aboard a steam ship bound for Europe. However, the new role and the new locale did nothing to change Major Rathbone’s mental state.

Henry became increasingly paranoid and depressed. Worse, he started hallucinating. He told a friend he was afraid of himself. Perhaps because he was convinced she would leave him, he did not allow Clara to be alone.

Sometime during this period of mental deterioration, Henry bought a revolver.


The Rathbone Tragedy

The tragedy occurred before dawn on Christmas Eve, 1883. Henry attempted to enter the room where the children were sleeping. Clara, who must have known something was terribly wrong, convinced him to join her in the master bedroom. When they were alone, Henry emptied the revolver into his wife, then stabbed her in the chest with a knife. He then turned the knife on himself.

News of the sensational killing spread across the Atlantic quickly, with newspapers revealing all the lurid details of the murder. Germain authorities found Rathbone to be insane at the time of the killing, and remanded him to the custody of the Provincial Insane Asylum, where he would live out the rest of his days haunted by chronic paranoia and tormented by hallucinations. He died on August 14, 1911 of unknown causes. Experts today believe that his psychosis stemmed either either from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or that he had paranoid schizophrenia which was exacerbated by the trauma of the assassination. His body was shipped back to the United States, and then laid to rest next to his wife on November 2nd. The graves were subsequently abandoned, and were likely reused. The remains of the Rathbones have been lost to history, a sad ending to this tragic epilogue of the Lincoln assassination.