Can’t Get Enough of Kossuth

On November 30, 2014 · 0 Comments

The formation and expansion of Kossuth County in the 1850’s discussed in The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County pointed to a simple question. Who was Kossuth? That string led me to Lajos Kossuth. I was wholly unfamiliar with the name and I wondered why a county deep within the American heartland would honor a former Governor-President of Hungary. This area wasn’t settled by Hungarians.


Kossuth Lajos Prinzhofer
Lajos Kossuth via Wikimedia Commons, in the Public Domain

Iowa wasn’t the only Kossuth reference in the United States either. A quick check of the Geographic Names Information System uncovered additional populated places named for him in Indiana, Mississippi, Maine, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin, plus a Kossuthville in Florida. The geographic placement implied a couple of different thoughts since the Kossuth tribute phenomenon seemed to be confined primarily the eastern half of the U.S. First, the designations began in close proximity to Kossuth’s zenith at the midpoint of the 19th Century (before the western states became highly organized and started naming everything) and second, his place in the American memory must have been brief (because he was overlooked when the western states started naming things in earnest).



Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca
Budapest Street Directory #14: Lajos Kossuth/Kossuth Lajos utca by Istvan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth de Udvard et Kossuthfalva was and continues to be a revered figure in Hungary. He sought an independent Hungary and for a brief period he actually achieved it. Hungary was under the control of Austria’s Habsburg Empire. Civil dissatisfaction and unrest had been ongoing for a number of years and finally sparked a revolution in 1848. Hungary declared its independence in 1849 with Kossuth serving as the Governor-President. It wouldn’t last long. The Austrian army teamed with Russia and invaded later that year. Kossuth was forced into exile where he continued to advocate tirelessly for Hungarian independence until he passed away in 1894.

There are tributes to Lajos Kossuth all over Hungary today, including his likeness within in the statue complex at Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), a major plaza in Budapest. Street View gives Hősök tere decent coverage if you want a more expansive understanding of its geographic context. Certainly, one would expect numerous memorials and commemorations in Hungary. That didn’t explain his prevalence in the United States.



P20021116_105453_0028
Statue of Lojas Kossuth by warsze, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There were distinct elements of Kossuth’s struggle that resonated with audiences far beyond Hungary, including those throughout Europe hoping to establish democracies as well as within the U.S. where a representative government had already been achieved. Kossuth drew inspiration from the American Revolution and in turn many citizens of the United States viewed Kossuth as carrying that same banner, an instrument for spreading American ideals to other parts of the world. It helped that Kossuth proved very adept at publicizing his cause through his skills as a prolific orator, writer and media sensation on both sides of the Atlantic.

Statues of Kossuth were raised in the United States too, such as the one in New York City, above (map).



Portrait with Kossuth
Portrait with Kossuth by Roman Boed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Lajos Kossuth traveled widely after his exile to promote Hungarian independence, including a wildly-successful tour through the United States. As described by The Hill after the dedication of a bust of Kossuth placed in the U.S. Capitol building in 1990,

This Hungarian statesman’s presence in the U.S. Capitol might seem arbitrary, but in fact Kossuth’s life was intertwined with the life — and values — of American democracy… The U.S. assisted him in traveling to America, where he ultimately spent one year. Kossuth became one of the first foreign statesmen to address a joint session of Congress, speaking to the body in 1852 about democracy… Moreover, throughout his year in the U.S., Kossuth made more than 300 speeches to thousands of American citizens. It is estimated that more than half of the nation’s population at the time heard him speak

Sorry about the random person appearing in the photo, however, there weren’t any other decent photos available and one has to use what one can find. This much later tribute to Kossuth served a means to regenerate awareness of his deeds that have largely faded from collective consciousness in the United States. It was commissioned by The American Hungarian Federation and sponsored for placement by Rep. Tom Lantos, a native of Hungary and the only member of the U.S. Congress who was also a Holocaust Survivor.

Kossuth may have been largely forgotten in the United States, however his name would have been well-known in the 1850’s. Creating and naming Kossuth County in Iowa in 1851 would have been viewed as a popular and logical choice associated with notions of freedom and independence.

The Odd Case of Iowa’s Largest County

On November 26, 2014 · 1 Comments

I had a fascinating Twitter conversation with Steve from Connecticut Museum Quest recently. He has a much more interesting Twitter feed @CTMQ than my mundane @TheReal12MC. Seriously, I don’t have much to say on Twitter other than using it to announce each new article and maybe posting a few beer pictures occasionally. A few people seem to follow it and sometimes I get article ideas so its useful to keep it going. You should subscribe and maybe I’ll start being more diligent. Anyway Steve wanted to know about the oddly over-sized Kossuth County on the northern edge of the state. It appeared as if it got a double scoop of territory when the authorities doled-out portions.

That’s exactly what happened although the story was a little more complicated.

Few people lived in Iowa in the earliest part of the 19th Century although settlers began to arrive in greater numbers as the decades passed. Iowa gained sufficient critical mass to become a state in 1846. It didn’t have a lot of counties yet and that was starting to create a problem. The county structure looked like this when Iowa joined the Union:


Iowa Counties in 1846
Iowa Counties in 1846
Generated From Newberry Library Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

There were plenty of counties in the southeastern quadrant where pioneers had settled although the rest of Iowa remained largely unorganized at the local level. The Iowa Legislature addressed the governance gap by establishing forty eight new counties in 1851 all at once. The configuration then matched essentially the same structure that exists today. It wasn’t completely identical, however. A few tweaks happened over the next few years, including some involving Kossuth County and its neighbors.

I’ve color-coded Kossuth and its surrounding counties to help explain the situation that was described in detail in the History of Kossuth County, Iowa (1913). My summary derived largely from that source unless otherwise noted.


Kossuth County in Iowa
Kossuth and Surrounding Counties in Iowa

Kossuth County Judge Asa C. Call became a driving force during this formative period. Practically nobody lived in Kossuth when the Call brothers, Asa and Ambrose, arrived in 1854. Judge Call recalled,

I made my first settlement in the county in July 1854. At that time there was no settlement north of Fort Dodge which was forty miles from us and no one on the east nearer than Clear Lake. I brought my wife to the new settlement on the 4th of November.


Algona, Iowa, High School
Algona, Iowa, High School by photolibrarian, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The two brothers founded the town of Algona and it became the county seat. They named it for a Henry Schoolcraft (remember him?) corruption of an indigenous word meaning "Algonquin Waters," I suppose it was done in recognition of the Native American tribes that were forced from the area only a couple of years earlier. The local tribes were Sioux, not Algonquin, although that didn’t seem to matter. An Indian was an Indian to those early pioneers. It was better than the original proposal though, Call’s Grove.

In the beginning, with the creation of those new counties in 1851, Kossuth was the same size as its neighbors to the west and east, Palo Alto and Hancock. However, Judge Cass was an ambitious man, a beloved figure and well-connected politically. He noticed Bancroft County immediately to his north and figured it would make a mighty fine addition to Kossuth, seeing how practically nobody lived there so it couldn’t defend its own interests. He also pondered Humboldt County to his immediate south. It would be helpful for Algona to sit near the center of the county if it were to be an effective seat of government so Kossuth had to pick up some southern territory too.

Webster County, south of Humboldt, also wielded power. Fort Dodge was its county seat. Webster was well organized politically and structurally due to the earlier establishment of Fort Dodge as a military outpost. Kossuth managed to grab all of Bancroft in the 1855 Legislative session. However, it had to split Humboldt with Webster. Bancroft and Humboldt counties, caught in a squeeze, disappeared. This was called "The 1855 Freak Legislation." I’m not making this stuff up.

Right now the 12MC audience is saying, "but wait, I see Humboldt County on the map!" That’s right. Judge Call learned about schemers in Webster plotting to expand farther, and they hoped to grab a large chunk of Kossuth in a subsequent session that would leave it vulnerable to being obliterated entirely. He foiled the plot by colluding with former Humboldt officials. He managed to reestablish Humboldt so it could act as a buffer between Kossuth and Webster. It was better to give up some of the larger Kossuth than to jeopardize its future existence. However, Webster was able to hold onto the bottom tier of Humboldt’s former townships and that left the restored Humboldt appreciably smaller than the original.

That explained why Kossuth became the largest county in Iowa, Humboldt was so small, and the neat latitudinal lines across Iowa created in 1851 fell out of alignment in the the north-central part of the state.

Nest of Spies

On October 22, 2014 · 1 Comments

I’ve mentioned several times before that geo-oddities can be extremely localized, and I’ve used my own hometown of Arlington County, Virginia as an ongoing example. I created a bicycle ride over the weekend that highlighted a specific theme that I’ve not discussed before. Being located so close to the nation’s capital, Arlington County has been a hotbed of spies, espionage, and various cat-and-mouse games between the United States and the former Soviet Union (and now Russia).

A little Interubes sleuthing uncovered a few of the more noteworthy events and places in Arlington. I was amazed at the amount of activity that took place behind the scenes and I’m sure only a small portion ever made it into public view. Naturally I had to visit some of the known locations in person, and readers can too. I produced a map that begins and ends at the Ballston Metro Station. The complete route is about 10 miles (16 km).

All photos are my own unless otherwise labeled.


The Early Cold War


Arlington Hall
Arlington Hall as it Now Appears

Arlington Hall began as a girls’ school in the 1920’s. However, a ready-made facility with easy access to the Pentagon sounded really attractive to the government. The military seized and closed the school during the Second World War as vital to the American war effort. It became Arlington Hall Station, a headquarters of the US Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, where cryptologists focused on cracking Japanese codes. The Army decided to retain the property after the war because of an emerging new threat, the Cold War. Eventually the operation became part of the newly-formed National Security Agency.

Soviet efforts to penetrate Arlington Hall began almost immediately, and succeeded.

The secrets were held from everyone except the Russians… the first decrypt of Soviet KGB messages sent from New York was witnessed by Bill Weiband, the NKVD agent. The secrets were later officially shared with Kim Philby, the phlegmatic British MI-6 liaison officer to the new CIA in 1949, when he visited Arlington Hall.

Many of the Arlington Hall workers lived in the adjacent garden apartments of Buckingham and the single family homes of the Arlington Forest neighborhood, and Soviet spies flocked there too. An off-premise Officers Club existed at the old Henderson Estate (now the site of the Lubber Run Community Center, map). Officials feared inebriated officers might say things that should remain silent so the club was moved onto campus. That didn’t halt the flow of sensitive information from deeply-embedded moles though.

Cryptology operations moved to more secure facilities in the 1980’s. One part of the Arlington Hall campus now hosts the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute and the other holds the US Army National Guard Readiness Center. That was the official word, anyway.

There were also rumors of Soviet and/or East German operations coordinated from a condominium building at 1515 S. Arlington Ridge Road (Street View). I had no idea whether that was true or not, although Arlington Ridge Road did make an appearance on Twelve Mile Circle in a completely different context a few years ago.


Aldrich Ames


Aldrich Ames House
The Aldrich Ames Residence

Aldrich Ames serves a lifelong prison sentence at the Allenwood high security prison in Pennsylvania, as he has done for the last two decades. He had been a counterintelligence officer in the Central Intelligence Agency for more than 30 years when he was finally exposed and arrested in 1994. His job focused on targeting people who worked at the Soviet Embassy to see if they could be converted into moles. Behind the scenes, he sold information about the identity of Soviet spies who then promptly faced death or simply disappeared.

The CIA and FBI learned that Russian officials who had been recruited by them were being arrested and executed. These human sources had provided critical intelligence information about the USSR, which was used by U.S. policy makers in determining U.S. foreign policy. Following analytical reviews and receipt of information about Ames’s unexplained wealth, the FBI opened an investigation in May 1993.

Ames was arrested at his Arlington home, at 2512 N Randolph Street.

The Arlington County property records noted ownership by Aldrich H. & Rosario C. Ames. The property was seized by the Federal government and sold in 1995.


Robert Hanssen



A Dead Drop Used by Robert Hanssen

Robert Hanssen worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation until his 2001 arrest, and now serves a life sentence at Florence ADMAX prison in South Carolina. Like Ames, Hanssen sold secrets primarily for greed, and he exposed informants buried deep within the Soviet military system. Hanssen used a number of "dead drops," or inconspicuous places where he could leave documents and receive payments. At least one of those secret hiding spots was located in Arlington.

I used to take my children to the Long Branch Nature Center when they were younger (map). Little did I suspect that it had a hidden historical past. There, under the edge of a wooden outdoor amphitheater (photo), Russian agents left a paper bag filled with $50,000 in cash for Hanssen. The FBI was already on Hanssen’s tail at that point and watched the location for several days. Hanssen never showed-up although he was captured at another dead drop a little later. Upon arrest he reportedly exclaimed, "What took you so long?"


Operation Ghost Stories



FBI Video of a Dead Drop in Arlington

Just when everyone thought the Cold War was relegated to the distant past it reemerged from the underground in 2010, surfaced by the FBI’s Operation Ghost Stories. As the FBI stated,

Our agents and analysts watched the deep-cover operatives as they established themselves in the U.S. (some by using stolen identities) and went about leading seemingly normal lives—getting married, buying homes, raising children, and assimilating into American society… The SVR was in it for the long haul. The illegals were content to wait decades to obtain their objective, which was to develop sources of information in U.S. policymaking circles.

The ten Russian deep undercover agents that were arrested — including two who lived in Arlington — were not convicted of any crime. They were allowed to return to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange; of spies traded for spies. Both sides continued the cloak-and-dagger.

The FBI released a large compendium of documents from their investigation in 2011 including a video of an actual drop taking place in an unnamed Arlington park, a bag containing $5,000. There was speculation about the actual location at the time. It could have been one of several Arlington locations because of the lack of visual clues in the video, although most signs pointed to Glencarlyn Park (map). Fittingly, that would be less than a mile from Hanssen’s dead drop. I looked around and couldn’t find an exact match although the bridges there were constructed in a similar manner (photo). I’ll keep looking.

Maybe I’ll find a bag of cash.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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