1847 Fremont appointed Governor of California A leader in the successful fight to wrest California away from Mexico, the explorer and mapmaker John C. Fremont briefly becomes governor of the newly won American territory. Still only in his early mid-30s at the time, Fremont had already won national acclaim for his leadership of two important explorations of the West with the military’s Corps of Topographical Engineers. Shortly after the government published Fremont’s meticulously accurate maps of the Far West, they became indispensable guides for the growing numbers of overland emigrants heading for California and Oregon. In 1845, though, the lines between military exploration and military conquest began to blur when President James Polk sent Captain Fremont and his men on a third “scientific” mission to explore the Rockies and Sierra Nevada—with 60 armed men accompanying them. Polk’s ambition to take California from Mexico was no secret, and Fremont’s expedition was clearly designed to place a military force near the region in case of war. When Mexico and the U.S. declared war in May 1846, Fremont and his men were in Oregon. Upon hearing the news, Fremont immediately headed south, calling his return “the first step in the conquest of California.” When the Anglo-American population of California learned of Fremont’s arrival, many of them began to rebel against their Mexican leaders. In June, a small band of American settlers seized Sonoma and raised a flag with a bear facing a five-pointed star—with this act, the revolutionaries declared the independent Republic of California. The Bear Flag Republic was short-lived. In August, Fremont and General Robert Stockton occupied Los Angeles. By January 1847, they had put down the small number of Californians determined to maintain a nation independent of the United States. With California now clearly in the U.S. hands, Stockton agreed to appoint Fremont as the territorial governor. However, a dispute broke out within the army over the legitimacy of Fremont’s appointment, and the young captain’s detractors accused him of mutiny, disobedience, and conduct prejudicial to military discipline. Recalled to Washington for a court martial, Fremont was found guilty of all three charges, and his appointment to take the position of governor was revoked. Though President Polk pardoned him and ordered him back to active duty in the army, Fremont was deeply embittered, and he resigned from the military and returned to California a private citizen. Although he never regained the governorship of California, the turmoil of Fremont’s early political career did not harm his future prospects. In 1851, citizens of California elected him a senator, and became the territorial governor of Arizona in 1878. Today, however, Fremont’s youthful accomplishments as an explorer and mapmaker are more celebrated than his subsequent political career. 2013 Pauline Phillips, the original Dear Abby, dies at 94 On this day in 2013, Pauline Phillips, who for more than 40 years wrote the “Dear Abby” newspaper advice column, dies at age 94 in Minneapolis after battling Alzheimer’s disease. Using the pen name Abigail Van Buren, Phillips made her “Dear Abby” debut in 1956, and over the ensuing decades dispensed witty advice on a broad range of topics, from snoring to sex. With a daily readership eventually topping 110 million people, “Dear Abby” became the world’s most widely syndicated newspaper column, appearing in some 1,400 newspapers and generating around 10,000 letters per week. Pauline Esther Friedman, nicknamed Popo, was born July 4, 1918, in Sioux City, Iowa. Her identical twin, Esther Pauline Friedman, dubbed Eppie, would grow up to pen the “Ask Ann Landers” advice column. The twins, whose Russian Jewish immigrant parents owned a chain of movie theaters, attended Sioux City’s Morningside College, where they studied journalism and psychology and wrote a gossip column for the school paper. They dropped out of college to marry in a double ceremony in 1939, shortly before their 21st birthday. Pauline wed Morton Phillips, a businessman from a wealthy family, while her twin tied the knot with Jules Lederer, who would later found Budget Rent a Car. In 1955 Lederer took over the “Ann Landers” column for The Chicago Sun-Times and soon turned to her sister for help answering some of the letters she received from readers. Phillips, who was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she was raising a family and involved in various philanthropic activities, enjoyed responding to these letters and decided she wanted an advice column of her own. She contacted The San Francisco Chronicle and told an editor there she believed she could write a better advice column that the one the paper published. The editor told her to stop by sometime, and the next morning Phillips showed up at the paper’s offices. Skeptical about Phillips’ qualifications, the editor told her to come up with her own responses to some of the letters that appeared in back issues of the paper. Phillips did so that same day and promptly was hired for the job, at $20 a week. In selecting her pen name, Phillips took Abigail after a character from the Bible and Van Buren after the eighth U.S. president, whose name she liked. The first “Dear Abby” column debuted on January 9, 1956, and was an instant hit with readers. A rift soon developed between Phillips and Lederer as a result of their competing columns, and the two were estranged for a number of years; however, both women became two of the most successful and influential columnists of the 20th century. Over the decades, Phillips tackled a variety of serious and controversial subjects, including abortion (she was pro-choice) and homosexuality (by the early 1980s, she publicly supported gay people). Additionally, Phillips was known to check in by phone with letter writers who sounded particularly distressed. In 1987 Phillips’ daughter, Jeanne, began co-writing “Dear Abby” with her mother. In 2002 Jeanne Phillips officially took over the column. That same year, Lederer died at age 83 and Pauline Phillips’ family announced she had Alzheimer’s. Phillips died on January 16, 2013. 1936 The Moon Maniac Albert Fish is executed at Sing Sing prison in New York. The “Moon Maniac” was one of America’s most notorious and disturbed killers. Authorities believe that Fish killed as many as 10 children and then ate their remains. Fish went to the electric chair with great anticipation, telling guards, “It will be the supreme thrill, the only one I haven’t tried.” Fish was executed for the murder of 10-year-old Grace Budd. In 1928, at his Wisteria Cottage in Westchester County, New York, Fish strangled the girl and then carved up her body with a saw. Six years later, Fish wrote Budd’s mother a letter in which he described in detail killing the girl and then preparing a stew with her flesh that he ate over the next nine days. The letter was traced back to the 66-year-old man. A psychiatrist who examined Fish stated, “There was no known perversion that he did not practice and practice frequently.” Albert Fish was obsessed with sadomasochism. He had his own children hit him with a paint-stirrer and a hairbrush; they also witnessed him hitting himself with a paddle studded with nails. He inserted sewing needles into his body. Nearly 30 needles were found in his groin area after he told a psychiatrist they were there. Fish also ate his own excrement and burned himself with hot irons and pokers. Most disturbingly, Fish was obsessed with cannibalism. He carried writings about the practice in his pockets. When he was arrested, Fish confessed to the murders of other young children whom he claimed to have eaten. Although nearly everyone agreed that he was insane, including the jury deciding his fate, he was nevertheless sentenced to die. Reportedly, his last statement was a handwritten note filled with filthy obscenities.