Monday, February 27, 2017

Déodat de Dolomieu and the Dolomites

Déodat de Dolomieu

"Déodat de Dolomieu (1750–1801) was a French adventurer, savant, and geologist. The son of the marquis de Dolomieu, he was born in the mountainous Dauphiné region of France.

He made a fateful choice by joining the order of the Knights of Malta at age twelve. When he was eighteen, he killed a fellow member of the Order of St. John in a duel.

As a young man, he journeyed through the Tyrollean Alps in what is now northeastern Italy. There he
observed a curious type of rock that bore a resemblance to limestone but did not effervesce in light acid. In 1791, he published a scholarly account of his findings about the rock, which came to be known as dolomite.
Napoleon Bust
Musée de l'Armée, Paris, France
Dolomieu at first embraced the principles of the French Revolution in 1789, until the Reign of Terror began killing many of his friends. He then became an ardent supporter of Napoleon.

In 1799, he was one of the savants that accompanied Napoleon on his invasion of Egypt. On the way to Egypt, Napoleon stopped and sacked the Island of Malta, which had been ruled for centuries by the Knights of St. John. Dolomieu was befriended there by Thomas-Alexandre Dumas de la Pailleterie, a French officer and the mixed-race father of the famous author Alexandre Dumas.

Both Dolomieu and Dumas were captured in 1799 by the Knights of Malta and imprisoned in a fortress in Taranto, on the “heel” of Italy. Dolomieu was held in solitary confinement for twenty-one months, in spite of the protests of the international “republic of letters.”

While in prison, Dolomieu carved a wooden pen and fashioned ink from lamp smoke. He wrote a treatise titled Mineralogical Philosophy, which became a seminal work in geology.
Edmond Dantès and Abbé Faria Chateau D'If, Count of Monte Cristo
The story of Dolomieu would later inspire Alexandre Dumas when he created the character of Abbé Faria in his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. After tunneling through the rocks of the prison at Chateau d’If in an attempt to escape, Abbé Faria wound up in the cell of the wrongfully imprisoned Edmond Dantès. The polymath Faria becomes friend and mentor to Dantès. Faria even writes notes using his own blood for ink. Faria also tells Dantès about a fabulous treasure that is, as Bogart might have put it, “the stuff that dreams are made of.” After winning the Battle of Marengo against the Austrians in 1801, Napoleon insisted on the release of Dolomieu as a condition for the peace that followed. Dolomieu died shortly after his release, a broken man.

Dolomites, Italy
The region of the Dolomites in Northern Italy is a legacy of Dolomieu."

An excerpt from An Adventure in 1914.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Boris Akunin

Boris Akunin

Boris Akunin* is a brilliant and witty novelist.  That is one.

Murder on the Leviathan
He writes crime novels that are set in the glittering world of late 19th century Imperial Russia.  That is two.

His hero, Erast Fandorin, combines a strong deductive mind with surprising martial arts abilities.  That is three.

Fandorin's sidekick Masa is a Japanese military doctor (shades of Watson) who instructs his boss in martial arts and Oriental ways.  That is four.

Akunin's plots are constructed with the elegance and craftsmanship of the Fabergé easter eggs that were the traditional Easter gifts of the Romanovs.  That is five.

Putin to Crimea: "All those in Favor of Joining Russia Raise your Hands"

Boris Akunin demonstrated considerable political courage in opposing Putin's 2014 invasion and annexation of the Crimea.  That is six.

The Winter Queen  
In this era of frayed Russian-American relations, it is wise to remember an example of the nobility of the true Russian spirit as epitomized by Erast Fandorin; it is also an entertaining escape.  That is seven.

Here are a couple of my favorite Boris Akunin novels on and

* Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigol Chkhartishvili, a Georgian who writes in Russian and is a longtime resident of Moscow.

Christopher Kelly is the co-author of America Invades (www.americainvades,com) and Italy Invades (  He recently edited An Adventure in 1914 (

Monday, February 13, 2017

My Great Grandfather, Queen Marie and the Maryhill Museum

It is Valentine's Day 2017.  Love is in the air.   It is only fitting to write about romance.

Thomas Tileston Wells 1865-1946
Queen Marie of Romania 1875 - 1938

My great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, may have had an affair with Queen Marie of Romania.*  What is the evidence for this assertion?

Queen Marie's Chair
Maryhill Museum
Goldendale WA
1) My own grandmother, Georgina Van Rensselaer (Wells' only daughter), believed that her father had an affair with Queen Marie.
Queen Marie Bust
Maryhill Museum, Goldendale WA

2) Queen Marie had an "open" marriage with King Ferdinand of Romania.  She had many affairs with a number of men including at least one other American  -- William Waldorf Astor.  Queen Marie was a spirited woman and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

3) Wells, an American, served in New York City as Honorary Consul from Romania from 1918 until 1941.  Queen Marie, who died in 1938, was, in a sense, Wells' boss.  It must have been unusual and somewhat irregular for an American to serve as a Romanian diplomat.

In 1926 Wells helped to organize Queen Marie's visit to the United States.  Marie had led her nation into war on the Allied side during World War I and was a hero to many Americans.  She was widely accounted to be a fearless Amazonian leader with a much stronger character than her feckless husband.  Queen Marie visited spots such as Niagara Falls.  She also went out west to Washington State where she dedicated the building that became known as the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale on the banks of the Columbia River.

Queen Marie's 1926 Visit to the USA

The Maryhill Museum ( is one of America's most extraordinary museums.  Far from any major city, it is open seasonally each year from March to November.

Native American Gloves
Maryhill Museum
It offers an eclectic combination of Rodin sculptures, Native American art and artifacts from the reign of Queen Marie.  The structure for the museum was built by Sam Hill ( an entrepreneur who was a pioneer in road and highway construction in the west.  This museum is well worth a visit when you are in the northwest.

Maryhill Museum
Goldendale WA
Rodin Thinker
Maryhill Museum of Art

You will learn much more about Wells' adventures and misadventures in An Adventure in 1914!

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* Who was Queen Marie of Romania?  In America Invades we wrote this about Queen Marie of Romania...

Mrs Cortlandt Schuyler Van Rensselaer
Née Georgina Wells
"My grandmother, Georgina Wells (1902-1997), had visited Romania twenty-one times by her twenty- first birthday, becoming acquainted with Romania’s Queen Marie, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and daughter of Prince Alfred, brother of the future King Edward VII.

Queen Marie of Romania
During World War I, Romania, like us, initially remained neutral but later, influenced by Queen Marie, joined the Allied side. As a result, most of Romania ended up being occupied by enemy troops in the ensuing conflict. However, Queen Marie, with the assistance of her friend the American dance pioneer Loie Fuller, got hold of a major American loan that helped the Romanians to resist.
When the Russian Revolution took Russia out of the war, Romania found it could not fight on alone, and it was forced to seek peace with the enemy. It only re-entered the war (on the Allied side) on November 10, a day before the armistice.
Loie Fuller Poster
Maryhill Museum of Art
Goldendale WA
After the Allied victory in 1919, Romania received some compensation for all its suffering. Thanks largely, once again, to the energetic efforts of Queen Marie, a woman to some extent in her grandmother’s mold, Romania acquired large tracts of territory that had previously been part of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires.

Queen Marie's Crown
Maryhill Museum
In 1926, this soldier queen made a triumphant visit to the United States facilitated by Thomas Tileston Wells. Despite having played such a significant role in World War I, she was not, however, to play any part in World War II. She died in 1938."

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trajan and the Dacian Invasion

Trajan's Column Rome. Italy

Trajan's Column looms about 13 stories above street level in Rome.  The famous column depicts the Roman invasion of Dacia from the 2nd Century.

The Palazzo Valentini in Rome affords an amazing glimpse into life in a villa in the heart of Rome (  The multi-media tour of the Domus Romane is available in several languages including English and Russian.  Sadly though understandably, photography is not allowed (see video below).  The tour ends with film that offers a detailed explanation of Trajan's Column.

Base of Trajan's Column, Rome Italy
Taken from Palazzo Valentini, Rome
Here is what we had to say about the Dacian invasion in the Romania chapter of Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World...

"The Romans, however, had eyes on the land to the north, the territory of the Dacians. They’d already had problems with the Dacians in the first century BC, when the Dacian king Burebista had taken an unwelcome (to Caesar) interest in Roman civil wars. Caesar apparently had plans to attack Burebista, but Caesar’s assassins saved Burebista for a while. Until (different) assassins dispatched him as well.

The relationship between Rome and the Dacians wasn’t always a smooth one in the first century AD either. For example, during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian, a Dacian army rampaged south into Roman territory. The governor of Moesia, Oppius Sabinus, was killed. The Roman forces pushed the Dacians back, but then they suffered a defeat by the Dacians at Tapae inside what is now Romania. A subsequent Roman victory did not crush the Dacians; and eventually, Domitian, facing a variety of crises elsewhere in the empire, pulled out after agreeing to a humiliating (to the Romans) peace treaty with the Dacian king, Decebalus.

Christopher Kelly & Stuart Laycock
Emperor Trajan, Tower Hill, London
However, Decebalus was not to enjoy his victory for long. In 101, the emperor Trajan led his army north into Dacia. After another clash at Tapae and one at Adamclisi, the Dacians accepted defeat and agreed to peace terms. But Trajan had not seen the last of Decebalus and his Dacians. In 105, Decebalus attacked. Trajan struck back and captured the Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa after vicious fighting. Decebalus killed himself rather than be captured, and Dacia became a Roman province.

But it would not stay Roman until the end of the empire. The area remained vulnerable to attack from outside the empire; for instance, during the Marcomannic invasions of the second century. And increasingly in the third century, the Goths threatened the area. However, in the 270s, Emperor Aurelian finally decided that crises elsewhere in the empire meant he could no longer hold onto Dacia, and he withdrew from most of the territory that had been taken by Trajan."

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Espionage in World War I

"Thomas Tileston Wells, my great grandfather, was falsely accused by Austrian authorities in Riva of being a Russian spy and threatened with immediate execution. There is no evidence that the threatened execution of the “other two” spies referenced in Wells’s manuscript ( ever took place. It was most likely a bluff used in an attempt to make Wells talk.  Many World War I spies were, however, executed.

Mata Hari: World War I Spy
Much of the “surveillance society” in which we live today has its origins in World War I espionage. For example, the British built a sophisticated signals intelligence network designed to monitor German radio traffic during the war. The SIS (Secret Intelligence Service and forerunner to MI6) established monitoring stations from Folkestone to London.
President Wilson
Room 40 was a decryption service of the British Admiralty that would later inspire the codebreakers of Bletchley Park in World War II. Their greatest coup of the war was the interception and decryption of the famous Zimmermann Telegram in 1917. This message, sent by the German minister of foreign affairs to the Mexican government, proposed an alliance with Mexico in the event of America’s entry into the war. Its disclosure enraged many Americans, and was one of the catalysts (along with unrestricted submarine warfare and the violation of Belgian neutrality) for the American declaration of war by the United States Congress on April 6, 1917.
Mata Hari statue
Leeuwarden, Netherlands
Room 40 also decrypted messages that identified Mata Hari, a Dutch courtesan and exotic dancer in Paris who was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, in 1876, as H-21, a German spy. The information was passed to French intelligence, and the femme fatale was arrested, convicted, and executed by firing squad in 1917.

Edith Cavell: British spy
London, UK
In the dawn hours of October 12, 1915, a very different woman, Edith Cavell, was executed in Brussels by a German firing squad. She was an unmarried clergyman’s daughter who was working as a Red Cross nurse in occupied Belgium. Her tragic fate aroused great sympathy in the American public. James Beck, another New York lawyer, declared that “the murder of Miss Cavell was one of exceptional brutality and stupidity.” Both the Germans and the Allies acknowledged that Cavell aided Allied servicemen in escaping to neutral Holland. Only long after the war ended was it revealed, by military historian M. R. D. Foot, that she had, in fact, been an agent of British intelligence. Her life was commemorated with a statue in London that stands near Trafalgar Square, and a mountain peak in Canada was named in her honor. The famous French singer, Edith Piaf, was named after her.
The Germans managed to infiltrate a spy of their own into Benedict XV’s Vatican. Rudolph Gerlach, a Bavarian, became the Pope’s chancellor while betraying Italian military secrets to the Central Powers.
V.I. Lenin: A German Plot?
But the greatest German intelligence coup of the war was arguably the smuggling of Lenin from Zurich to Petrograd on board a “sealed train.” Indisputably, the Germans helped to finance the start of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Somerset Maugham
W. Somerset Maugham worked for British intelligence in Switzerland, whose neutral status made it a hotbed of espionage intrigue during World War I. He would later transform his wartime experiences into the Ashenden spy novels.

Buchan's 39 Steps
The popularity of espionage fiction was boosted by the war. John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps pits Scotsman Richard Hannay against a nefarious ring of German spies in England in the lead up to World War I. This novel, published in 1915, was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935 and dramatized on the London stage, to great acclaim.

Ian Fleming
On May 20, 1917, Major Valentine Fleming of the British Army was killed by artillery on the Western Front. His obituary was written by Winston Churchill. One of his two sons became the assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence in World War II, but he is better known as Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond."

This blog was adapted from An Adventure in 1914.  Published by History Invasions Press in 2016.

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