1864 – American Civil War: Confederate spy Belle Boyd is arrested by Union troops and detained at the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C.
Isabella Maria Boyd (May 4, 1844 – June 11, 1900), best known as Belle Boyd, as well as Cleopatra of the Secession and Siren of the Shenandoah, was a Confederate spy in the American Civil War. She operated from her father’s hotel in Front Royal, Virginia, and provided valuable information to Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in 1862.
Isabella Maria Boyd was born on May 4, 1844, in Martinsburg, Virginia (now part of West Virginia). She was the eldest child of Benjamin Reed and Mary Rebecca (Glenn) Boyd. Boyd would describe her childhood as idyllic, living a care-free life, of a reckless tomboy, who climbed trees, raced through the woods, and dominated brothers, sisters, and cousins. Despite her family’s lack of money, Boyd received a good education. After some preliminary schooling, she attended the Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore, Maryland.
Boyd’s espionage career began by chance. According to her 1866 account, on July 4, 1861, a band of Union army soldiers heard she had Confederate flags in her room, and they came to investigate. They hung a Union flag outside her home. This made her angry enough, but when one of them cursed at her mother, she was enraged. Boyd pulled out a pistol and shot and killed the man. A board of inquiry exonerated her, but sentries were posted around the house and officers kept close track of her activities. She profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers, Captain Daniel Keily, “To him,” she wrote later, “I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information.” Boyd conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case. On her first attempt at spying, she was caught and told she could be sentenced to death, but was not. She was not scared and realized she needed to find a better way to communicate.
One evening in mid-May 1862, Union Army General James Shields and his staff gathered in the parlor of the local hotel. Boyd hid in the closet in the room, eavesdropping through a knothole she enlarged in the door. She learned that Shields had been ordered east from Front Royal, Virginia. That night, Boyd rode through Union lines, using false papers to bluff her way past the sentries, and reported the news to Colonel Turner Ashby, who was scouting for the Confederates. She then returned to town. When the Confederates advanced on Front Royal on May 23, Boyd ran to greet Stonewall Jackson’s men, avoiding enemy fire that put bullet holes in her skirt. She urged an officer to inform Jackson that “the Yankee force is very small. Tell him to charge right down and he will catch them all.” Jackson did and that evening penned a note of gratitude to her: “I thank you, for myself and for the army, for the immense service that you have rendered your country today.” For her contributions, she was awarded the Southern Cross of Honor. Jackson also gave her captain and honorary aide-de-camp positions.
After her lover gave her up, Belle Boyd was arrested for the first time on July 29, 1862, and brought to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., the next day. An inquiry was held on August 7, 1862, concerning violations of orders that Boyd be kept in close custody. Boyd was held for a month before being released on August 29, 1862, when she was exchanged at Fort Monroe. She was arrested again in June 1863, but was released after contracting typhoid fever.
In March 1864, she attempted to travel to England, where she was intercepted by a Union blockade and sent to Canada. There she met Union naval officer, Samuel Wylde Hardinge. The two later married in England. The two had one child, a daughter, and Boyd became an actress in England after her husband’s death to support her daughter. Following the death of her husband in 1866, she returned to the United States on November 11, 1869. She married John Swainston Hammond in New Orleans. After a divorce in 1884, Boyd married Nathaniel Rue High in 1885. A year later, she began touring the country giving dramatic lectures of her life as a Civil War spy.
Post-War years and death
Boyd published a highly fictionalized narrative of her war experiences in a two volume book titled Bell Boyd in Camp and Prison. While touring the United States (she had gone to address members of a GAR post), she died of a heart attack in Kilbourne City (now known as Wisconsin Dells), Wisconsin, on June 11, 1900. She was 56 years old. She was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Wisconsin Dells, with members of the Local GAR as her pallbearers. For years, her grave simply read:
BORN IN VIRGINIA
DIED IN WISCONSIN AND WAS BURIED IN SPRING GROVE CEMETERY
ERECTED BY A COMRADE
In pop culture
The Smiling Rebel is Harnett Kane’s 1955 novel about Belle Boyd.
Her bullet-riddled handbag was the featured artifact on an episode of Legends of the Hidden Temple.
Belle Boyd is a main character in Cherie Priest’s 2010 steampunk novel Clementine.
She Wouldn’t Surrender is James Kendricks’ 1960 novel for Monarch Books about Belle Boyd.
1914 – Irwin Corey, American actor and activist (d. 2017)
“Professor” Irwin Corey (July 29, 1914 – February 6, 2017) was an American stand-up comic, film actor and activist, often billed as The World’s Foremost Authority. He introduced his unscripted, improvisational style of stand-up comedy at the San Francisco club, the hungry i. Lenny Bruce described Corey as “one of the most brilliant comedians of all time”.
Corey was born on July 29, 1914 in Brooklyn, New York. Poverty-stricken after his father deserted the family, his mother was forced to place him and his five siblings in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York, where Corey remained until his early teens. He then rode in boxcars out to California, and enrolled himself at Belmont High School in Los Angeles. During the Great Depression he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps and, while working his way back East, became a featherweight Golden Gloves boxing champion.
Corey supported Communist/Socialist left-wing politics.” He appeared in support of Cuban children, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the American Communist Party, and was blacklisted in the 1950s, the effects of which he stated lingered throughout his life. (Corey never returned to Late Night with David Letterman after his first appearance in 1982, which he claimed was a result of the blacklist still being in effect.) During the 1960 election, Corey campaigned for president on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy ticket. During the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Corey endorsed Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders for the nomination and presidency. Corey was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
When the publicity-shy Thomas Pynchon won the National Book Award Fiction Citation for Gravity’s Rainbow in 1974, he asked Corey to accept it on his behalf. The New York Times described the resulting speech as “…a series of bad jokes and mangled syntax which left some people roaring with laughter and others perplexed.”
In the Robert A. Heinlein science fiction novel Friday, the eponymous heroine says
At one time there really was a man known as “the World’s Greatest Authority.” I ran across him in trying to nail down one of the many silly questions that kept coming at me from odd sources. Like this: Set your terminal to “research.” Punch parameters in succession “North American culture,” “English-speaking,” “mid-twentieth century,” “comedians,” “the World’s Greatest Authority.” The answer you can expect is “Professor Irwin Corey.” You’ll find his routines timeless humor.
For an October 2011 interview, Corey invited a New York Times reporter to visit his 1840 carriage house on East 36th Street. Corey estimated its resale value at $3.5 million. He said that, when not performing, he panhandled for change from motorists exiting the Queens–Midtown Tunnel. Every few months, he told the interviewer, he donated the money to a group that purchased medical supplies for Cuban children. He said of the drivers who supplied the cash, “I don’t tell them where the money’s going, and I’m sure they don’t care.” Irvin Arthur, Corey’s agent for half a century, assured the reporter that Corey did not need the money for himself. “This is not about money,” Arthur said. “For Irwin, this is an extension of his performing.” In his memoir, Phoning Home, Jacob M. Appel cites a personal encounter with Corey on a street in New York City as the basis for his novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up.
In 1938 Corey returned to New York, where he got a job writing and performing in Pins and Needles, a musical comedy revue about a union organizer in the “garment district”. He claimed that he was fired from this job for his union organizing activities. Five years later he was working in New Faces of 1943 and appearing at the Village Vanguard, doing his stand-up comedy routine. He was drafted during World War II, but was discharged after six months, after he claimed he convinced an Army psychiatrist that he was a homosexual.
From the late 1940s he cultivated his “Professor” character. Dressed in seedy formal wear and sneakers, with his bushy hair sprouting in all directions, Corey would amble on stage in a preoccupied manner, then begin his monologue with “However …” He created a new style of double-talk comedy; instead of making up nonsense words like “krelman” and “trilloweg”, like double-talker Al Kelly, the Professor would season his speech with many long and florid, but authentic, words. The professor would then launch into observations about anything under the sun, but seldom actually making sense.
However … we all know that protocol takes precedence over procedures. This parliamentary point of order based on the state of inertia of developing a centrifugal force issued as a catalyst rather than as a catalytic agent, and hastens a change reaction and remains an indigenous brier to its inception. This is a focal point used as a tangent so the bile is excreted through the panaceas.
Changing topics suddenly, he would wander around the stage, pontificating all the while. His quick wit allowed him to hold his own against the most stubborn straight man, heckler or interviewer. One fan of Corey’s comedy, despite their radically different politics, was Ayn Rand. Theatre critic Kenneth Tynan wrote of the Professor in The New Yorker, “Corey is a cultural clown, a parody of literacy, a travesty of all that our civilization holds dear, and one of the funniest grotesques in America. He is Chaplin’s tramp with a college education”.
In 1975, Corey gave a typically long-winded, nonsensical performance in New York City for journalists waiting for the Rolling Stones to announce the band’s 1975 Tour of the Americas. The press was still listening to Corey ramble on when they finally noticed that the Stones were playing “Brown Sugar” on a flatbed truck driving down Fifth Avenue.
In 1951 Corey appeared as “Abou Ben Atom”, the Genie, in the cult flop Broadway musical Flahooley along with Yma Sumac, the Bil and Cora Baird Marionettes and Barbara Cook (in her Broadway debut). Corey’s performance of “Springtime Cometh” can be heard on the show’s original cast album.
Film and television
Corey appeared occasionally in 1950s television as a character actor. He appeared in an episode of The Phil Silvers Show titled “Bilko’s Grand Hotel”, in which Corey plays an unkempt Bowery bum being passed off as a hotelier by Sgt. Bilko. The Professor was a frequent guest comic on variety shows and a guest panelist on game shows during the 1960s and 1970s.
Corey became so synonymous with comic erudition that, when a Providence, Rhode Island television station, WJAR-TV, wanted a spokesman to explain changes in network affiliations,[when?] Corey got the job. Lecturing with pointer in hand, Corey manipulated magnetic signs to demonstrate how television schedules would be disrupted. By the end of the commercial, the visual aids were in shambles and the professor had meandered from his original point. Corey would do the same promos for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee in 1977 during the time that rival stations WITI and WISN-TV switched affiliations.
Corey often appeared on The Steve Allen Show (1962–1964), whereupon he would end his rambling stand-up routine with Allen and stage hands literally chasing Corey with a giant butterfly net. He later guest starred on the The Donald O’Connor Show in 1968. Corey appeared in various Broadway productions, including as a gravedigger in a production of Hamlet.
In 2009, filmmaker Jordan Stone began filming what was to become an award-winning documentary film called “Irwin & Fran”. Political activist and fellow stand-up comedian Dick Gregory shared some in-depth and provocative memories and Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon narrated in a very personal tone. The film won The People’s Film Festival Best Film Award in 2013.
Personal life and death
Corey was married for 70 years to Frances Berman Corey, who died in May 2011. The couple had two children, the late Margaret Davis, née Corey, an actress, and Richard Corey, a painter. Their two grandsons are Amadeo Corey and Corey Meister. Irwin Corey turned 100 in July 2014.
Corey died at the age of 102 on February 6, 2017 at his apartment in Manhattan with his son Richard at his side.
How to Commit Marriage (1969) – The Baba Ziba 
Fore Play (1975) – Professor Irwin Corey
Car Wash (1976) – The Mad Bomber 
Thieves (1977) – Joe Kaminsky (reprising his stage role)
Chatterbox! (1977) – Himself
Fairy Tales (1979) – Dr. Eyes
The Comeback Trail (1982) – Himself
Stuck on You! (1982) – Judge Gabriel 
Crackers (1984) – Lazzarelli
That’s Adequate (1989) – D.W. Godilla
Jack (1996) – Poppy
I’m Not Rappaport (1996) – Sol
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) – Charlie
Irwin & Fran (2013) – Himself
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