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Holey History

[whitespace] Exploring Meriwether Lewis

By Bob Harris

YOU REMEMBER Lewis & Clark, right? No, not the comedy team; not the people who make Pampers. The explorers--the ones we learned about in grade school, the stalwart manly men who trailblazed the Pacific Northwest for President Jefferson. Who, incidentally, was not married to Weezie.

There's a controversy about the death of Meriwether Lewis. The official story is this: After straddling the Continental Divide, pioneering a continent, and drinking coffee in Seattle long before it got trendy, this go-getting, world-beating hero returned--and within a couple years got all depressed and killed himself.

But now a growing number of historians think Lewis was murdered, and no less than 160 of the guy's descendants are asking the National Park Service to dig up the body for a look-see. Some folks think that's a bad idea, and they've got a point. For one, Lewis died 188 years ago, so even if he was murdered, it's probably a little too late to go catch the guy. Unless it was Strom Thurmond. Also, there's the matter of precedent. You go digging up Meriwether Lewis, then somebody else might want to dig up some other guy, and the next thing you know they're pulling bodies out of Arlington National Cemetery.

Oh, wait, they're already doing that.

Anyway ...

Thing is, the official verdict of suicide probably does require an update. Call me crazy, but most people who know how to work a gun usually don't punch the permanent time clock by shooting themselves first in the head, then a second time in the chest, slashing themselves from head to toe with a razor, and then crying out desperately for help.

You don't gotta be Oliver Stone here, OK? The Tennessee Legislature even dug Lewis up once already--150 years ago--and decided it was a murder, although it's not clear exactly why. The answer is worth knowing.

Look, if we find out it was a suicide, that would put 160 minds to rest. And if it was a murder, then we learn a few things about Jefferson and Clark, who were Lewis' best friends and didn't do squat to find out what happened.

History matters. Lewis himself would have said so. Hey, if the Park Service is so concerned about holes in the ground, thanks to this whole Larry Lawrence thing, there's a new one up at Arlington. I got an idea about who might belong there instead.

POOR RUDY GIULIANI. New York's mayor says his civil rights have been violated: his name has been used for commercial purposes without permission. So Rudy has gone to court to stop the cruel ads.

What's the grave slander? New York magazine is running a series of ads on the sides of city buses showing the magazine's logo and the Manhattan skyline, captioned, "Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for."

Ooh, golly, how vicious. A heartless slur like that could ruin the poor guy. Jeepers. C'mon, politicians are fair game. The National Review put Clinton, Gore, and Hillary on the cover in mandarin outfits with their features altered to look Chinese. Mother Jones dressed up Bob Dole as the Marlboro Man. Nobody sued. When you're a public figure, it's part of the deal.

And Rudy Giuliani is one of the most publicity-hungry handshakers alive. The guy swings by the Letterman and Saturday Night Live shows the way Andy Warhol dropped in on the Velvet Underground. This guy doesn't like having his name plastered all over town? The ad's not even negative. Giuliani's a politician. If he wasn't taking credit for everything good, he wouldn't be doing his job.

Rudy must not realize he's only making himself look silly. If he lets the ads slide with a smile, a few commuters notice a couple dozen buses, and he wins points for having a sense of humor. Now, thanks to hizzoner's shrewd legal acumen, the entire country is finding out just how thin-skinned Mr. Mayor can really be.

(Read with a Joe Pesci-in-Goodfellas Brooklyn accent here.) Hey, I used to live in Brooklyn. I spent two years of my freaking life in a fourth-floor walk-up just off Flatbush Avenue, listening to car alarms and guys in their undershirts yelling, "Hey, Tony!" 24 hours a day. I know from New York, OK?

Remember when they convicted John Gotti--that riot at the courthouse, with the overturned cop cars and all? I'm out jogging that day and run right through the whole scene, no lie. It didn't look all that unusual; I thought maybe some store was having a sale. I finally moved out when they started finding bodies in my neighborhood. Honest truth. Bugs I can handle. Torsos you can't get rid of with little cardboard motels, know what I'm saying?

New York's a tough town. You're touchy? You get eaten alive, badda-boom, badda-bing. And Giuliani of all people--Rudy used to prosecute Mafia bigshots. Last I checked, he's throwing made guys into Rikers Island. And now he's whining over a magazine ad. Hard to believe it's the same guy.

If Giuliani keeps acting like a weenie, how long do you think it'll be until New York decides to move him from ads on the side of the bus--to driving one?

Correction: This space recently described Sun-Myung Moon's ownership of several prominent news outlets, also noting that Moon's cash often reaches prominent conservative causes through various channels ("Moon Beams," Dec. 4).

One of the examples given, first reported by journalist Robert Parry, was a seven-figure grant from a Moon organization that ultimately reached Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Some of Falwell's former Moral Majority associates now run an organization called the Rutherford Institute, whose attorneys, in their own words, are now acting "of counsel" in the Paula Jones case and defraying her legal expenses.

All of the above is worth reporting. However, the Dec. 4 column included an aside unfairly connecting the latter two, implying that some of the Moon money that apparently reached Falwell's Liberty U. might in turn have also reached the Rutherford Institute and the Paula Jones suit.

The Rutherford folks want to make it clear that they don't know anything about any Moon money; nor have they received any money from Liberty, Falwell, or Moon to help finance the Paula Jones case. I regret the error.

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From the Dec. 18-24, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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