The Historic Homes Where Jimi Hendrix And George Frideric Handel Were Neighbors (250 Years Apart)

Jimi Hendrix, Handel House
When walking in London, keep an eye out for the Blue Plaques. These historic markers will tell you where famous people once lived, and occasionally make for strange combinations.

One blue plaque at 23 Brook Street in the exclusive Mayfair neighborhood tells how Jimi Hendrix lived there from 1968-1969. Next door at number 25 is another Blue Plaque, this time for Classical composer George Frideric Handel, who lived in the house from 1723 until his death in 1759. Sadly, there’s no record of what Jimi thought about living so close to an earlier and slightly different composer.

The upper stories of these two homes are now the Handel House Museum, which, as the name implies, is dedicated to Handel and not Hendrix. The house has been refurnished with period furniture and paintings and contains a collection of Handel’s personal items. The museum hosts many special events and concerts throughout the year, including weekly recitals. My wife is a big Classical music fan and taking her here to listen to a string quartet is something she still talks about years later.

One disappointment was not being able to see where Jimi Hendrix stayed. He loved London and loved his place, calling it his first real home of his own. At that time he had no neighbors and so he could practice his music as loudly as he wanted.

When the Handel House Museum opened in 2001, his apartment was restored to look like it had when he lived there, minus the large amount of drugs scattered about. Sadly, the apartment is now used as museum’s administrative offices and isn’t generally shown to the public.

[Photo courtesy David Holt]

London’s Favorite Historic Home: The Soane Museum

LondonLondon has preserved the homes of many of its famous residents, such as that of Charles Dickens and the Benjamin Franklin house. One local favorite is often overlooked by out-of-towners because its owner has been all but forgotten outside of England.

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was the most celebrated architect of his day. He worked on numerous important commissions such as the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and many aristocratic mansions. Sadly, his Neo-Classical style went out of fashion and many of his buildings were demolished or radically altered in the early 20th Century.

His best-known building is the one he designed for himself. Located in central London, even from the street you can tell it’s different than most buildings of the period. It’s more open, with big arched windows, Classical-style statues, and a multilayered design quite unlike the flat, rectangular look of most buildings of its day.

It’s the inside, though, that’s really different. Rather than some stuffy old house with a few dull displays about its famous-but-now-decomposing owner, Soane’s house is jam-packed with art and antiquities. Soane was a devoted collector. In one room, the walls are covered floor to ceiling in paintings, and the walls open up like giant cabinets to reveal more paintings. Hogarth’s original paintings of “The Rake’s Progress” are here, along with many works from Soane’s good friend J.M.W. Turner.

Soane loved all things Classical, so much of the space in other rooms is filled with ancient Greek and Roman antiquities and casts. Every now and then something from another culture shows up looking oddly out of place – a steer’s skull from the American Southwest, a collection of Bronze Chinese figurines and the alabaster sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I.

%Gallery-162486%The interior of the house is a genius of design. Despite the small rooms and narrow corridors, it never feels cramped. Skylights illuminate everything down to the cellar, and the design is very open, allowing you to peek into other rooms, even other floors, from every room.

When Soane was appointed Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806, he began to organize his casts, models, paintings, and books in a display so that students could come here, study, and be inspired. He arranged with friends in Parliament to pass an Act that upon his death, his house would be preserved as a free museum.

His house is still open as the Sir John Soane’s Museum. It’s still free and it looks much the same as it did when Soane died in 1837. When I was there, no electric lights were on but the sunlight coming through the skylights provided plenty of illumination. No photos are allowed (not even for visiting travel bloggers) and the house has an eerie feel to it, like its resident just left two weeks ago rather than two centuries.

The house overlooks Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a lovely green space in the heart of London. It’s a great spot to sit and have a picnic while admiring the Georgian architecture all around.

Johnny Cash childhood home to become a museum

Johnny CashJohnny Cash is a music legend, and now his boyhood home in the otherwise obscure town of Dyess in northeastern Arkansas is being turned into a museum.

Funds from the Johnny Cash Music Festival on August 4 will go towards renovating the home and creating the museum. Family members will be among those performing, as well as George Jones and Kris Kristofferson. Locals are also raising funds with an annual Dyess Day.

So what else is there to see in Dyess? It was built as an agricultural colony during the New Deal and has an interesting past and lots of historic buildings. It’s also close to some beautiful natural areas such as the Ozarks and the Saint Francis Sunken Lands Wildlife Management Area. More importantly for music fans, being only an hour’s drive from Memphis and Graceland, it makes a cool stop on a musical road trip through America’s heartland.

[Photo courtesy Look Magazine]

The assassination of Jesse James

Jesse James, Robert Ford, wild west, old west
After 1876, life wasn’t the same for Jesse James.

That year he and his gang got badly shot up while trying to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. The Northfield Raid left three gangmembers dead and three more in jail. Only Frank and Jesse James got away. Frank left for the East, swearing he’d go straight, and left Jesse very much alone. Most of his friends from his Civil War days were dead or disappeared, and as he gathered a new gang he had to pick men of lesser caliber: two-bit horse thieves and petty crooks who dreamed of making the big time. Among them were brothers Charles and Robert Ford.

Jesse’s only comfort in his later years was his family. He had married his first cousin, Zerelda. She had been named after his mother, so Jesse called her “Zee” to differentiate between the two Zereldas. Their uncle presided at their wedding. Jesse also had a young son, Jesse James, Jr., and a daughter named Mary. Neither child knew their real names. They thought their last name was Howard and that their father was some sort of businessman. Zee knew the truth, of course, and she also knew that she didn’t trust the Ford brothers.

Charlie may have helped Jesse rob a train at Blue Cut in 1881, but Robert was as yet untested. Some biographers say the brothers had been avid horse thieves before meeting Jesse, but despite these credentials Jesse never seemed to trust the Fords. He kept a close eye on the two as they shared a house with him in St. Joseph, Missouri.

He was right to mistrust them. Robert Ford had secretly met with Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden and agreed to kill Jesse in exchange for a pardon and the $10,000 reward on Jesse’s head. This was a huge sum at a time when a decent horse went for $100 and a good farm sold for a few thousand. The Fords kept quiet and waited their chance. Days stretched into weeks as they stayed under the watchful eye of the famous outlaw. They knew they were no match for him in a face-to-face fight, yet they got no chance to surprise him.

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Jesse was planning a bank job with the Fords when on April 3, 1882, the news came that Dick Liddel, a former gangmember, had been arrested and given a full confession. Jesse’s suspicions of the Fords grew as he wondered why the Fords hadn’t told him the news before he read it in the newspaper. As Robert Ford later recounted, he knew he had to kill Jesse now or never. Jesse had killed gangmembers before, and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

Then the Fords witnessed a miracle. It was a hot day, and Jesse removed his coat. This revealed the revolvers strapped to his belt. Not wanting to arouse the suspicions of his neighbors, he did something the Fords had never seen him do before: remove his weapons. Even better, he got up on a chair to dust a picture.

With Jesse’s back turned, the Fords had their chance. Both drew their weapons. Robert was faster and shot Jesse in the back of the head, killing him instantly. Leaving Jesse’s family to mourn his death, they hurried to a telegraph office and sent a message to Crittenden saying the job was done. Much to their chagrin they were arrested, found guilty of murder, and sentenced to hang. The governor quickly pardoned them, but they never received their full share of the reward money.

Public reaction was mixed. While Jesse James’ popularity had dropped, most people thought the Fords were cowardly for shooting him in the back. A popular song called Robert Ford a “dirty little coward”. In all fairness, the Fords could have never taken Jesse in a fair fight, and Jesse had killed his share of unarmed men.

Jesse became even more of a legend after his death, while the Fords went down in history as traitors. Jesse James books and photographs sold like mad. The one above is a stereoscopic image of Jesse in his coffin. Stereoscopic photos could be put in a special viewer and appeared as 3D images. Many families had one in their living rooms with images of foreign lands and natural wonders. Now people could buy images of the dead outlaw for a bit of grisly after-dinner entertainment.

The Fords went on tour re-enacting the scene of Jesse’s assassination, but sometimes they were booed. Charles later killed himself and Robert moved to Creede, Colorado, a mining town where he opened a saloon. There on June 8, 1892 Edward O’Kelley, a local criminal who had had a couple of fights with Ford, walked into his saloon with a shotgun and killed him. He served several years in jail but was eventually pardoned. O’Kelley himself was killed in Oklahoma City in 1904 with police officer Joe Burnett. The policeman died a peaceful death, thus ending a cycle of killing stretching back more than twenty years.

The Jesse James home is now a museum displaying memorabilia from his life. There’s also a bullet hole high up on the wall that was supposedly made by Robert Ford’s gun. This is yet another bit of myth-making that’s grown up around Jesse James. The coroner’s inquest clearly stated that the bullet lodged just above his eye. Still, it’s a fascinating museum for any fan of the Old West.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: On the trail of Jesse James.

Coming up next: The unquiet grave of Jesse James

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

The Jesse James farm

Jesse James, Frank James
Jesse James grew up both lucky and unlucky. His father, Baptist preacher Robert Sallee James, owned a prosperous farm in Clay County. His slaves cultivated hemp and other cash crops, and Jesse and his older siblings Frank and Susan grew up in comfort. Robert kept a large library and both his sons became avid readers. Frank loved Shakespeare, while Jesse was more devoted to the Bible and newspapers.

The boys’ luck quickly changed. Although Robert had founded a successful Baptist church and was respected by his neighbors, he wasn’t content. In 1850 he decided to go to the gold fields of California to preach to the miners. Jesse James, then only two years old, clutched his leg and begged him not to go. Robert went anyway, and within a few months had died.

This was a financial disaster for the James family. It turned out Robert had left many debts and some of the family possessions had to be auctioned off. Jesse’s mother Zerelda, a tough Southern woman, married a wealthy farmer named Benjamin Simms, a man twice her age. This saved the financial situation but did not stabilize the children’s lives. Simms rejected his stepchildren and made them move into a relative’s home. Simms soon died by falling off a horse and Zerelda, showing little grief, married mild-mannered physician Reuben Samuel. The children moved back to the farm and Samuel treated them as if they were his own.

All should have gone well, but Clay County was on the border of the Kansas Territory. In the 1850s, there was a bitter fight over whether Kansas would be admitted into the Union as a slave state or a free state. Immigrants from the north arrived armed, ready to make Kansas free, while Missouri “border ruffians” crossed the border to disrupt local elections and skirmish with the Free-Staters. Kansas “Jayhawkers” raided Missouri, freeing slaves and killing slave owners. As slave owners themselves, the James family wanted Kansas to become a slave state. The majority of Missourians agreed with them, although a growing minority were outspoken abolitionists.

%Gallery-108204%Bleeding Kansas, as the fight was called, was the precursor to the Civil War. When the Confederacy formed in 1861, Missouri’s governor and much of the legislature wanted to join, but they met fierce resistance. Soon there were two Missouri state governments on opposite sides of the Civil War. Jesse was still a boy, but Frank was old enough to enlist in the Missouri State Guard, a Confederate outfit. He saw fighting at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington, both Confederate victories, then fell ill and was left behind and captured. Frank swore loyalty to the Union and went home, but when the Unionist state government required that all able-bodied men join a local Union militia, he fled and became a guerrilla under the command of William Quantrill.

Quantrill’s band of guerrillas, often called “bushwhackers”, terrorized Unionist civilians and attacked Union patrols. They became famous for their lightning raids and merciless persecution of Unionist civilians. Their worst atrocity was attacking Lawrence, Kansas, a center of abolitionism, and killing 200 mostly unarmed men and boys.

Everybody knew Frank rode with Quantrill. The local Union militia, the same one Frank had refused to join, showed up at the James farm. They had heard Frank and the bushwhackers were camped nearby. Finding 15 year-old Jesse working in the field, they demanded to know where Frank was. When he refused to tell, they beat him. The militia had better luck with Reuben Samuel. They put a noose around his neck, threw the rope over a high branch, and hauled him up. Just before he passed out, they dropped him back down, then hauled him up again. Eventually Samuel revealed where Frank was. The militia rode off in pursuit, but the bushwhackers got away.

Jesse never forgot that beating, and when he was sixteen he joined the bushwackers. He became one of the toughest of a tough crew and participated in the Centralia Massacre in 1864. His mother Zerelda stayed at home throughout the war, helping her boys on the sly and giving the militia a severe tongue lashing any time they appeared on her property. A local Union commander called her “one of the worst women in the state.”

After that the James farm never knew peace. Frank and Jesse, unable or unwilling to adjust to life after the war, continued their guerrilla activities as outlaws. They lived more or less openly on the farm. Many of their neighbors supported them as loyal Southerners, while others were too afraid to cross them. One night in 1874, a group of Pinkerton detectives, thinking Frank and Jesse were home, snuck up to a window and threw a bomb inside. The explosion mangled Zerelda’s arm and killed eight-year-old Archie Samuel, Frank and Jesse’s half brother.

In 1882 Jesse was assassinated by Robert Ford and Frank gave himself up shortly thereafter. He was found innocent of all charges (this was a time before fingerprinting and CCTV) and settled down to a peaceful life. Zerelda stayed at the farm until her death in 1911, giving tours of the farm for the curious. She even sold pebbles from Jesse’s grave for 25 cents. When she ran out of pebbles, she’d go down to the nearby creek and get some more.

At the James Farm Museum just outside of Kearney you can still buy a pebble from Jesse’s grave, and they still cost 25 cents. The visitor’s center explains the life and times of Frank and Jesse and displays many artifacts from the family. Hidden behind a screen of trees the James farm looks much as it was, lovingly restored in the 1970s by James devotees and filled with family heirlooms. The legend lives on there, as it does in many other spots where the James brothers fought, robbed, and died in Missouri.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: On the trail of Jesse James.

Coming up next: Jesse James robs his first bank!