Friday, March 11, 2011

Daredevil Johnny

Last Sunday in Little Rock, Arkansas, I interviewed the great-grandchildren of Dynamite Johnny O' Brien. It was great to talk to them and find out more about their fiery antecedent. They were extremely accommodating, and I certainly got some great stories from them. So I'm another bit along the road to finishing up my radio documentary about the aforementioned Johnny, who I learned also had the sobriquet "Daredevil Johnny". Below is a picture of Kristin Agar (Johnny's great-granddaughter) and myself.

I learned of Johnny's connection to "The Maine" -- an American battleship which sunk in Havana harbor on the eve of the Spanish-American war of 1898. Years later, in 1912, the Maine was raised from the harbor. Johnny "put on his best morning suit, a starched white shirt and bow tie and climbed onto the rusted and patched deck of the battleship. He hung an American flag from a mast and piloted the boat out to the open sea -- where the crew came on board and opened the valves in the bulkheads to let the water rush in as sailors on nearby ships blew mournful "taps" into the air". O' Brien kissed the flag saying "Old Glory vanished under the foam with a flash of red, white and blue as vivid as a flame". Then the maine slipped under the white foam and meanwhile "30 000 people marching in the St. Patricks Day parade in New York paused, all the church bells chimed for five minutes in a tribute to the heroes who had gone down years before with the ship".
The more I discover about Johnny Dynamite the more amazed I am at the extent of his adventures. He seems to have been involved in every revolution and fracas from Colombia to Cuba, New York to Japan and back around again!

From Left to right - Cynthia East (Johnny Dynamite's great-granddaughter), Myself, and Kristin Agar (Johnny's great-granddaughter).

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