What was I doing? I was innocently reading a book about Washington DC when I ran across this remarkable story.
The phrase in my book seemed intriguing was this: “The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine.” What’s this all about? A quick search on [“The Myrtle of Venus withBacchus's Vine”] leads me to find that this was a line in an 18th century drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” And it’s not just any tune, that was the original tune for the Star Spangled Banner!
So... “In Anacreon…” was the tune to the Star Spangled Banner, lyrics written by Francis Scott Key.
Now I had to figure out the connection to the insanity defense. A couple of quick searches combining “Myrtle of Venus” with “insanity defense” didn’t seem to be very profitable, so I changed my search to combine the title of the song, “To Anacreon” and insanity.
I then searched for [defense by reason of insanity star spangled banner] to find an interesting reference to Philip Barton Key, son of Francis Scott Key. Maybe that’s the connection!
Turns out that Phillip was having a rather public affair with Dan Sickles’ wife. In a fit of jealous rage, Sickles shot Phillip Key dead just outside his home, in Lafayette Park, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House! (And you thought today’s homicides were crazy.)
A quick search for [Daniel Sickles reason of insanity] to confirm this shows that HE was the first person to be defended by the “murder by reason of insanity” defense. Remarkably enough, he was arrested and put into jail, but allowed to receive visitors AND hold onto his sidearm.. while in jail. (I guess security was a little more lax in those days.)
As a few readers suggested, perhaps the best book on Sickle's amazing, checked and complicated life is Thomas Keneally's American Scoundrel: The life of the notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles. After this rather tawdry affair, Sickles went on to become a general who fought, rather badly it seems, at Gettysburg.
The first source I found was the always entertaining Straight Dope column, -- but of course I triple-checked this with a few other sources.
And along the way I found a rousing rendition of “To Anacreon" by the Georgia Tech glee club. They give it a performance that seems stylistically compatible with early American drinking songs!
Overall, this challenge was slightly harder than most, with respondents taking an average of 10 minutes to solve the challenge.
Search lesson: Sometimes problem have to be broken down into their parts for solving. In this case, you had to figure out what “The Myrtle of Venus” was all about, THEN figure out what connection that might have to the “insanity defense.” Trying to solve this all in one giant search is barely possible (but it’s much faster to break it down into components first).