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October 31, 2013

This Week In The Civil War: Confederates’ Knoxville Move

(AP) This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources. Primary sources for the series are historic newspaper databases and other archival records.

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Nov. 3: Confederates moves toward Knoxville, Tenn.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered one of his most capable commanders, James Longstreet, to send forces against Union rivals and advance toward Knoxville, Tenn. The so-called Knoxville Campaign by Longstreet would drag on through November 1863, part of a series of skirmishes and military assaults in eastern Tennessee 150 years ago in the Civil War. Both Union and Confederate forces were seeking to control eastern Tennessee in the fall of 1863 and Longstreet began pushing toward Knoxville over muddy roads in a bid to assault Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s Union forces defending Knoxville.

A Confederate siege of Knoxville would open on Nov. 17, 1863, but after two weeks of trying to starve out the garrison and one disastrous assault, he would scuttle the siege. Not only would Longstreet ultimately fail in his quest to take Knoxville, but Union forces would largely take control of eastern Tennessee after Grant also ended the Confederate siege of Chattanooga in the autumn of 1863.

Was The Exorcist A True Story? The Answer Remains Elusive

St. Louis, MO (AP) Saint Louis University junior Zach Grummer-Strawn has never seen “The Exorcist,” the 1973 horror film considered one of the finest examples of unadulterated cinematic terror. He’s only vaguely familiar with the monthlong 1949 demon-purging ritual at his school on which the film and William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel were based.

But just in time for Halloween, Jesuit scholars have joined a whole new generation of horror buffs in St. Louis to recount the supernatural incident. The university hosted a panel discussion Tuesday on the exorcism, which involved the treatment of an unidentified suburban Washington, D.C., boy. About 500 people crammed into Pius XII Library, with some spilling into the library aisles, leaning against pillars or sitting on desks.

“I’d like to believe it’s the real thing,” said Grummer-Strawn, a theology and sociology student from Atlanta. “But you just can’t know. That’s part of why we’re here. It’s the pursuit of truth. And it’s such a great story.”

The university scholars and guest speaker Thomas Allen, author of a 1993 account of the events at the school’s former Alexian Brothers Hospital, emphasized that definitive proof that the boy known only as “Robbie” was possessed by malevolent spirits is unattainable. Maybe he instead suffered from mental illness or sexual abuse - or fabricated the entire experience.

The actual Georgetown ‘exorcism house’

Like most of religion’s basic tenets, it ultimately comes down to faith.

“If the devil can convince us he does not exist, then half the battle is won,” said the Rev. Paul Stark, vice president for mission and ministry at the 195-year-old Catholic school. He opened the discussion with a prayer from the church’s exorcism handbook, imploring God to “fill your servants with courage to fight that reprobate dragon.”

Some of the non-students in the audience spoke of personal connections to an episode that has enthralled generations of St. Louis residents.

One man described living near the suburban St. Louis home where the 13-year-old boy arrived in the winter of 1949 (his Lutheran mother was a St. Louis native who married a Catholic). Another said she was a distant cousin of Father William Bowdern, who led the exorcism ritual after consulting with the archbishop of St. Louis but remained publicly silent about his experiences - though he did tell Allen it was “the real thing.”

Bowdern died in 1983.

Bowdern was assisted by the Rev. Walter Halloran, who unlike his colleague spoke openly with Allen and expressed his skepticism about potential paranormal events before his death a decade ago.

“He talked more about the boy, and how much he suffered, and less about the rite,” Allen said. “Here was a scared, confused boy caught up in something he didn’t understand.

“He told me, `I simply don’t know,’ and that is where I leave it,” the author added. “I just don’t know.”

Allen zealously protects the anonymity of “Robbie,” despite others’ efforts to track him down to this day.

Gary Mackey, a 59-year-old accountant who left work early to attend the campus event, said he also is unsure whether “The Exorcist” was a work of fiction or instead a riveting real-life account of barely comprehensible forces. He does know this: He cannot forget the movie that he saw with a buddy four decades ago. They drove 100 miles from their home in Louisville, Ky., to the nearest theater showing it across the state line in Cincinnati.

“I saw the movie when I was 19 years old and it scared me to death,” Mackey said. “I think it’s the scariest movie ever made.”

OK, Weather Nerds! Here’re Some Weird Sandy Facts

Washington (AP) -- Superstorm Sandy set several records and was unusual in even more ways. Here are 12 strange weather features of Sandy:

1. SIZE: With tropical-storm-force winds that extended for 1,000 miles, Sandy was the largest Atlantic system on record. However, meteorologists only started recording this measurement for comparison in 1988.

2. STORM SURGE: Sandy set historical maximum recorded water levels at the Battery in New York, Kings Point, N.Y.; Bergen Point, N.Y., Sandy Hook, N.J., Bridgeport, Conn., and New Haven Conn., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

3. SNOW: This is the first time the National Hurricane Center ever listed snow or blizzard in their warnings. Three feet of snow fell in West Virginia.

4. GREAT LAKES: It is unusual for 20-foot waves, large surges and tropical-force winds to be recorded in the Great Lakes for a coastal tropical storm, but it happened with Sandy.

After Sandy: The Casino Pier in Seaside, NJ

5. ENERGY: NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division has an experimental program that measures integrated energy of a storm’s surge and waves on a 0 to 6.0 scale. Sandy reached 5.8, passing Katrina as the highest recorded so far.

6. PRESSURE: A more established measurement of storm strength is barometric pressure, with the lower the pressure the stronger the storm. Sandy hit a low pressure of 945.5 mb in Atlantic City, which some federal agencies called the lowest pressure recorded north of the Mason-Dixon line in the United States. The National Hurricane Center says the 1938 Great New England Hurricane, when reanalyzed, was slightly lower, but it was never recorded that low at the time.

7. FORECAST: Computer models and forecasters saw Sandy coming for more than a week, even talking of a New York-area landfall - an unusually accurate forecast.

8. TURN WEST: It was the first time in modern recorded history that a storm took a sharp turn to the west and hit New Jersey. A scientific study said it was a once-in-700-years track.

9. LANDFALL REPEAT: Sandy hit land in the very same town, Brigantine, N.J., as Irene did the year before (but Irene came from the south, a more common direction).

10. FUEL: For a while, Sandy was getting much of its fuel and power from the top of the system, which is more typical of a winter storm. Hurricanes tend to get their power from the warm water below.

11. MISPLACED WINDS: Sandy’s strongest winds at one point weren’t in its eye but 100 miles west of its center, which meteorologists said is quite strange.

12. NOTABLE S-NAMED STORM: This is only the second tropical system starting with an “S” to have its name retired, an indication of how unusual it is to have potent late season storms and how busy 2012 was for Atlantic storms.

LA’s La Brea Tar Pits Mark 100 Years Of Excavations

By ALICIA CHANG

AP Science Writer

Los Angeles (AP) Surrounded by a gooey graveyard of prehistoric beasts, a small crew diligently wades through a backlog of fossil finds from a century of excavation at the La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles.

Digs over the years have unearthed bones of mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and other unsuspecting Ice Age creatures that became trapped in ponds of sticky asphalt. But it’s the smaller discoveries— plants, insects and rodents—in recent years that are shaping scientists’ views of life in the region 11,000 to 50,000 years ago.

``Earlier excavations really missed a great part of the story,’’ said John Harris, chief curator at the George C. Page Museum, which oversees the fossil collection. People ``were only taking out bones they could see, but it’s the hidden bones that provide clues to the environment.’’

The museum on Monday celebrates 100 years of digging, which has recovered some 5.5 million bones representing more than 600 species of animals and plants, the richest cache of Ice Age fossils.

There’s so much left to do that it could easily take another century to complete. On a recent Wednesday, a volunteer in a white lab coat pounded away at a bison skull in the museum’s fishbowl laboratory where visitors can witness paleontology in action. Nearby, two workers hunched over microscopes, sorting bone fragments belonging to extinct creatures.

Beetle fossils from the Pits

In the back storage, floor-to-ceiling shelves of wooden crates house bones that need to be cleaned, identified or labeled. The museum estimates it has 100,000 specimens to catalog and another million to scrub.

Long before skyscrapers towered over Wilshire Boulevard, giant beasts ruled the land. Back then, sagebrush scrub covered the basin, home to herds of mammoths, bison, camels and ground sloths. Mastodons hung out in the woodlands. Lurking were meat-eating predators including saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and giant jaguars.

Every so often, creatures would get bogged down in pools of water and asphalt that seeped from underground crude oil deposits, and die of dehydration or starvation. Stranded animals that appeared to be easy prey then became a trap for predators that also got stuck in the ooze.

In 1913, the predecessor to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County launched a two-year project to uncover only the best-preserved mammal bones, largely ignoring everything else. Though the early digs gave scientists a glimpse into the types of animals that roamed, there was still much to be learned.

After the early missteps, scientists in 1969 decided to focus on pulling everything out and revisited a tar pit dubbed Pit 91 to do a more detailed excavation. For nearly 40 years, work at Pit 91 dominated the Page Museum’s efforts as visitors gawked from a viewing platform.

Museum officials temporarily halted digging at Pit 91 several years ago to concentrate on an unexpected trove of Ice Age fossils that was found during the construction of an underground garage next to the tar pits, located some 7 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.

``I can’t think of any other site that is as rich,’’ said Sarah George, executive director of the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Every time a foundation is dug, ``more old blocks of tar filled with fossils came out of the ground,’’ said George, who used to work as a curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Despite a century of digging, scientists still can’t agree on how the Ice Age beasts became extinct. Some suggested that the prehistoric predators may have competed with humans for similar prey and that carnivores ate carcasses out of desperation. But Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University said dental studies of saber-toothed cats and other carnivores suggest they were ``living the good life’’ before they became extinct.

Museum excavators plan to leave some fossils buried, in case better tools are invented to study them in the next century.


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