Last presidential yacht bought for $0

In this March 3, 1932, file photo, the USS Sequoia is viewed in Washington, DC. An investment group with ties to a wealthy industrialist family in India can take ownership of the former US presidential yacht Sequoia with no payment to its current owner, a Delaware judge ruled Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.

In this March 3, 1932, file photo, the USS Sequoia is viewed in Washington, DC. An investment group with ties to a wealthy industrialist family in India can take ownership of the former US presidential yacht Sequoia with no payment to its current owner, a Delaware judge ruled Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.  (AP Photo/File)

How much would you pay for the presidential yacht on which FDR hosted Winston Churchill, JFK held his last birthday, and Nixon drank a bottle of whiskey before resigning? You probably overbid.

The News Journal reports investment group FE Partners will acquire the USS Sequoia for $0. The 104-foot yacht was built in 1926, according to Reuters.

It was used by presidents for years until Carter sold it for $286,000 at auction in 1977, the Guardian reports. The Sequoia changed hands multiple times before being acquired by lawyer Gary Silversmith in 2000.

He used it for private charters before borrowing multiple millions from FE Partners for repairs in 2012. That kicked off a years-long legal battle between the two parties.

This week, judge Sam Glasscock found Silversmith fell down on his part of the loan agreement to keep “America’s most famous boat” in good condition. “The Sequoia … is sitting on an inadequate cradle on an undersized marine railway in a moribund boatyard … deteriorating and, lately, home to raccoons,” Glasscock writes.

The loan agreement allowed FE Partners to buy the Sequoia back, and after deducting a number of costs—including repairs estimated at potentially more than $4 million—Glasscock ruled “free” to be a fair price.

Silversmith says he’s concerned FE Partners, which is backed by a wealthy Indian family, will move the Sequoia overseas. But the investment group says it plans to restore it “so that future generations of Americans will be able to enjoy the storied past of this magnificent yacht.” (Eva Braun’s things, found in an abandoned bunker, have been sold.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Last US Presidential Yacht Bought for $0

England launches hunt for ‘witches’ marks’

Daisy-Wheels inscribed with a pair of compasses or dividers found in Saxon Tithe barn, Bradford-on-Avon (Historic England).

Daisy-Wheels inscribed with a pair of compasses or dividers found in Saxon Tithe barn, Bradford-on-Avon (Historic England).

Members of the public in England have been asked to hunt for so-called “witches’ marks” that were carved into old buildings to protect against witchcraft.

Historic England, a government-sponsored organization that aims to preserve the country’s historic buildings and monuments, launched the project on Halloween.

The witches’ marks, also known as apotropaic marks, are ritual protection symbols carved into many historic places, such as medieval churches, houses, barns and even the Tower of London, according to Historic England. However, the marks have never been fully recorded.

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Historic England is calling on the public to help create a record of the marks by sharing photos and information about where they are located.

“Witches’ marks are a physical reminder of how our ancestors saw the world,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, in a statement. “They really fire the imagination and can teach us about previously-held beliefs and common rituals. Ritual marks were cut, scratched or carved into our ancestors’ homes and churches in the hope of making the world a safer, less hostile place.”

The most common type of apotropaic mark is the daisy wheel, or hexafoil, which is often a six-petal “flower” drawn with a pair of compasses. “Daisy wheels comprise a single, endless line which supposedly confused and entrapped evil spirits,” explained Historic England.

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Other common apotropaic marks are pentangles, or five-pointed stars, the letters AM (for Ave Maria), the letter M (for Mary) and VV (for Virgin of Virgins). The letters were thought to beseech the protection of the Virgin Mary, say historians.

Apotropaic marks have been found in medieval houses dating from about 1550 to 1750. They have, for example, been recorded at Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, as well as in medieval barns, where they were etched into the ancient timber to protect crops.

In 2015, a large number of apotropaic marks were discovered at the sixteenth-century Queen’s House in the Tower of London.

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“For centuries such marks went unnoticed or were dismissed as meaningless graffiti,” explained David Sorapure, head of building recording at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), in an email to FoxNews.com. “However, recent research has led to a greater understanding of the intentions and meaning behind such marks and offer an exciting glimpse into the historic use of protective symbols.”

Sorapure explained that because the marks were intended to protect buildings from demonic or harmful forces, they are often found next to ‘vulnerable’ points like doors, windows or chimneys and are often found in churches or high status buildings.

“The use of protective symbols is widely acknowledged to have continued into the 19th century,” he added, noting that masons and carpenters may have kept the tradition for good luck. “A common type found is the mesh, which appears as a series of scratches forming a crosshatch. This is thought to have been intended to act a little like a net to trap demonic forces.”

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MOLA experts were involved in the discovery of the witches’ marks in the Tower of London, as well as an early 19th century mark in the historic Banqueting House in London’s Whitehall. Sorapure told FoxNews.com that the scorch mark against a Banqueting House roof timber was intended to protect against fire, including lightning strike.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Inside the quest to restore Leonardo da Vinci’s secret vineyard

NOW PLAYINGInside Leonardo da Vinci’s secret garden

Closed to the public for five centuries, Casa degli Atellani— in the heart of the Milan, Italy– has recently reopened to curious tourists. The estate houses plenty of treasures for fans of Italian history, art and culture. But it’s also home to an intriguing secret dating back to the Renaissance-era—a newly restored vineyard owned by Leonardo da Vinci.

When da Vinci left Florence for Milan in the late 15th century, he arrived with a cover letter that described him as a weapons maker and laid out in exquisite detail the various arms he could produce.

At the bottom of his résumé, he added a couple of lines: In times of peace, he wrote, he could paint and serve as an architect. The man who went on to paint the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper didn’t even bother to mention another skill: grape grower.

A little-known detail about Leonardo’s life and passions is that he owned a small vineyard that the duke of Milan gave to him for painting The Last Supper, says historian and author Jacopo Ghilardotti.

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Today, half a millennium later, that vineyard has been restored to reproduce essentially the same grape the genius cultivated.

It took Leonardo a few years to complete the The Last Supper fresco in the dining hall of the Dominican monastery adjacent to Santa Maria delle Grazie church.
On many days he would accomplish no more than a few brushstrokes. With the vineyard just a stone’s throw from the church, it is thought that he would stroll among the vines during breaks from creating his masterpiece.

“The relationship between Leonardo and nature was exercised in that place in that vineyard,” says Luca Maroni, the professional wine taster who drove the restoration of the vineyard. “There is still the soul of Leonardo there.”

The vineyard would have a tortured history. The French confiscated it when they invaded Milan. Leonardo fled, and when the French begged him to come back, he reportedly did so on the condition that he got his grapes back.

The only property in his will was the vineyard, which he split between his disciple, model and rumored lover, “Salai,” and his valet, Giovanbattista Villani.

What happened in the next few centuries is largely unknown. But a century ago, when the stately homes on the property were joined into one grand villa, Casa degli Atellani , interest developed in identifying the vineyard’s location. Ultimately, it was located. There was a bocce court above it.

In 1943, the Allies bombed Santa Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper, which had been carefully wrapped up, was undamaged, but fires burned the lawn where the vineyard lay. In 2008, Maroni, along with a team of archeologists from the University of Milan, conducted a dig and found fossils of the original vines.  DNA testing matched them closely with the white wine grape Malvasia di Candia Aromatica.

But it would be several years before da Vinci’s secret garden would open to the public. As Milan was getting ready to host the 2015 Expo,the real work got underway to identify Leonardo’s grapes and replant his vineyard. The owners of the Atellani house, the Castellini family, enthusiastically agreed. That year, they also opened the doors of the property to the public for the first time.

The vines were replanted in the garden of the stately home, which was renovated to preserve the architectural styles of the times.

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So far, there are no grapes growing on the vines but Maroni insists there will be wine produced in 2017. The wine expert estimates there will be a limited production of just 500 bottles of passito— a sweet wine usually imbibed at the end of a meal. If successful, it will be the first wine made in the center of Milan since WWII and the vintners plan to use the same winemaking process da Vinci described in a letter to his wine master in 1508.

Atellani may not be producing wine yet but curiosity is drawing in tourists who want to look around the premises and get a true taste of 15th century life.

“People come from all over the world, cause they really love Leonardo and everything related to Leonardo,” says Ghilardotti.

Fans of the Renaissance artisan have given the attraction glowing reviews online.

It is not known for sure where Leonardo actually lived during his decades in Milan, but now, at least, we know where his grapevines thrived.

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Amy Kellogg currently serves as a Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent based in Milan, Italy. She joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999 as a Moscow-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @amykelloggfox

Secret fire station discovered under UK factory

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Firefighters' uniforms (The Alan Nuttall Partnership).

Firefighters’ uniforms (The Alan Nuttall Partnership).

An incredible underground fire station, untouched for 60 years, has been discovered beneath a U.K. factory.

Workers at the Dudley site recently entered the fire station for the first time in decades, discovering an amazing time capsule.

The fire house is beneath a manufacturing facility owned by The Alan Nuttall Partnership, which makes interiors and displays for stores. “It was notionally known about, but nobody had opened it up to take a look,” Anna Bamford, Nuttalls’ marketing manager, told FoxNews.com.

After locating the key, staff opened the mysterious basement door and were stunned to find a fully-equipped fire station complete with dust-covered pump, hoses, and firefighters’ uniforms hanging on the wall. “We came across all of these fascinating finds – there’s a set of seven or eight uniforms – they have got the original hats and jackets, still with the silver buttons,” said Bamford. “There’s a lot of hoses, I think there’s about 10 or 12 down there, there’s even an old gas mask.”

Other items found include a half-drunk bottle of Pepsi and a certificate awarded to one of the firefighters in a competition against other stations. Firefighters’ names also appear to be chalked on the wall above their uniforms.

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Bamford explained that documents in the fire station are dated from 50s and 60s, which provide a hint as to when it was last in use.

The pump, however, may be more than 80 years old. “We have had some feedback about the pump – people are saying that it’s from the 30s,” Bamford said. “It has a towbar on it, so it would have hooked to some sort of vehicle – it’s a really special piece.”

The fire station dates back to the site’s earliest days – the factory was built in 1915 to manufacture munitions during World War I. “It has a heavily structured feeling – we don’t know if it was an air-raid shelter or maybe an explosives storage area from when it was a munitions factory,” said Bamford.

After about 15 or 16 years making munitions, the factory was used for car manufacturing. Later, in the mid-20th century, the site used to build store interiors and displays and was taken over by the Alan Nuttall Partnership in 1986.

The company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, wants to find out more about the underground fire station and hear from firefighters that worked there. “Part of what we are looking to do is see if we can get hold of someone who worked in that room,” said Bamford.

Inside FDR’s wartime mission to protect American treasures

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Published August 28, 2016 New York Post
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Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sit on portico of Russian Embassy in Tehran, during conference in 1943. (Library of Congress)
Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sit on portico of Russian Embassy in Tehran, during conference in 1943. (Library of Congress)
Early in the evening of Dec. 26, 1941, a train bound for Fort Knox pulled out of Union Station in Washington, DC. Four Secret Service agents stood guard over an assortment of discreet-looking packages stashed in Car A-1. Only a handful of government officials knew what they contained.

Inside the parcels were the original Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution of the United States and the first and second drafts of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The very spirit of America was on that train, being secreted away from an enemy determined to stamp out life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“American Treasures” (St. Martin’s Press), a book by Stephen Puleo out Tuesday, tells the stories of the US government officials who protected our nation’s heritage following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

One of its heroes is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who understood “the symbolic value of those documents and who realized, particularly after Pearl Harbor, the psychic disaster it would be if they were destroyed,” Puleo tells The Post.

Roosevelt’s fears were warranted. There was, Puleo explains, a palpable sense that the Germans could attack Washington, DC.

“There were U-boats off the East Coast of America, sinking ships near Cape May and Cape Cod,” he says. “People thought there would be bombers overhead. So the decision to remove the documents was not a frivolous or whimsical thought.”

Government officials were also acutely aware of the destruction, well underway by 1941, of England’s heritage: The Germans had dropped a bomb on the British Museum, obliterating more than 1,000 books collected by King George III.

Roosevelt put his friend Archibald MacLeish, the head of the Library of Congress, in charge of cataloging and safeguarding America’s historical papers. Well before the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, MacLeish and some 700 Library of Congress staffers worked overtime and without pay to catalog thousands of documents, ranking them in order of historical importance.

Some 5,000 manuscripts were removed from Washington, DC, during the war. Among them were an original Gutenberg Bible, James Madison’s handwritten notes on the Constitutional Convention, the Articles of Confederation, George Washington’s personal papers, the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta, and Walt Whitman’s notebooks.

Click to read the full story in the New York Post.

Documents: Soviets worried about detente after Nixon quit

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Published August 24, 2016 Associated Press
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Oct. 13, 1973: Vice presidential nominee Gerald R. Ford, right, listens as President Richard Nixon speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
Oct. 13, 1973: Vice presidential nominee Gerald R. Ford, right, listens as President Richard Nixon speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP)
YORBA LINDA, Calif. – Overseas reaction to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 was mixed: The Soviets expressed worry about the future of detente. North Korea reacted brashly, calling Nixon’s exit the “falling out” of the “wicked boss” of American imperialists. South Vietnam put its forces on high alert because it feared the North Vietnamese would take advantage of the vulnerable U.S. political situation.

The international response to the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s fall is noted in 2,500 newly declassified intelligence documents the CIA released on Wednesday. The 28,000 pages — many still with lengthy redactions — represent eight years of the top-secret President’s Daily Brief prepared for Nixon and his successor, President Gerald Ford.

At the start of Nixon’s tenure, the CIA delivered morning and afternoon intelligence briefs at the request of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who wanted timely intelligence on world events. By the end of 1969, the PDB was about 10 pages long. Ford sought even more analysis and his PDBs were sometimes close to 20 pages long with annexes.

The brief on Sept. 5, 1973, said Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had “voiced suspicions that opponents of Soviet-U.S. accommodation are trying to exploit Watergate and said he wanted to build detente so firmly that it will not be an issue in future U.S. politics.”

Most of the documents mentioning Watergate followed Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 8, 1974. The scandal erupted in 1972 after operatives for Nixon’s Republican re-election campaign were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office and hotel complex in Washington.

“The world in the past 24 hours has seemed to mark time as the U.S. succession process worked itself out,” according to the Aug. 10, 1974, brief. “None of the potential troublemakers has produced even a rumble. … It may be that many have not had time to consider how the situation might be turned to advantage. Many, theSoviets for example, had probably not anticipated the situation to come to a climax so rapidly and, still in something of a state of shock, are without (a) fixed course.”

According to the brief, the North Vietnamese did not accelerate attacks, but instead confined themselves to “warning President Ford not to follow past U.S. policies toward Indochina.”

One intelligence brief, about a week after the resignation, predicted that Brezhnev, who had developed a personal relationship with Nixon, could lose some standing in the Politburo, the policy-making body of the Communist Party. The partnership had produced results. In May 1972, Nixon visited Moscow for discussions that led to the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The pact to limit nuclear arms was a key foreign policy achievement for Nixon and Kissinger.

Other subjects discussed in the documents released Wednesday include:

Attack at Munich Olympics. The Sept. 6, 1972, brief said Israel “seems certain to avenge” militants responsible for kidnapping and killing 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich. “Although the Israelis could allow the outrage in the international community to suffice for the present, domestic sentiment for a response is already mounting,” the brief said. “Any reprisal action could be severe.”

1973 Arab-Israeli War. The war started Oct. 6, 1973, on Yom Kippur when Egypt and Syria attacked Sinai and the Golan Heights on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The day before the war began, intelligence reports remarked that while military exercises in Egypt seemed larger and more realistic, “they do not appear to be preparations for an offensive against Israel.” Even on the day the war began, the brief did not confirm Israeli reports of an imminent attack, and said neither side seemed inclined to start hostilities. Rather, officials were concerned that Syria could mobilize its defenses, alarming the Israelis, which would “increase the risk of military clashes, which neither side originally intended.”

1975 fall of Saigon. U.S. intelligence predicted that Saigon wouldn’t fall to the North Vietnamese until early 1976. In fact, it happened months earlier on April 30, 1975. That day’s intelligence brief said: “North Vietnamese troops and tanks entered the heart of Saigon less than two hours after President Duong Van Minh announced the unconditional surrender of his government. … At last report, Minh was seen leaving the palace accompanied by communist troops.” Shoot down of EC-121

1969 shoot down of EC-121. On April 15, 1969, North Korea shot down a U.S. naval reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Japan. All 31 U.S. servicemen aboard were killed when the Lockheed EC-121 crashed off the North Korean coast. North Korea incorrectly accused the U.S. of violating its territory. Nixon didn’t confront North Korea over the incident, but conducted a brief naval demonstration in the sea and resumed U.S. surveillance flights days later. In an indication that the Soviet Union sided with the U.S., the intelligence brief two days later said that a Soviet destroyer was rendezvousing with the USS Tucker to turn over clothing and equipment recovered from the plane.

Joseph Goebbels’ secretary: Working for Nazi ‘just another job’

Magda Goebbels, left, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels in 1938.

Magda Goebbels, left, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels in 1938.

Even 71 years after she last typed a letter for one of the most infamous monsters of the Adolf Hitler regime, a former secretary for Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels refers to the murder of six million people as “the matter of the Jews” and says telling her life story has nothing to do with “clearing my conscience.”

Brunhilde Pomsel, 105, spoke to The Guardian shortly after a film about her time as a Nazi aide, “A German Life,” was released at the Munich Film Festival. Pomsel was one of Goebbels’ six secretaries, hired by the ministry of propaganda in 1942 when she was 31 years old.

She described Goebbels – who rallied Germany to Hitler’s cause and covered up the German ruler’s crimes – in glowing terms, commenting on his “gentlemanly countenance” and remarking about his well-kept nails.

“He had well-groomed hands – he probably had a manicure every day,” Pomsel told The Guardian, laughing. “There was really nothing to criticize about him.”

She said her work for the Nazi regime was “just another job” and scoffed at those who questioned how so many people – including someone such as Pomsel – could have gone along with Hitler’s genocidal agenda.

“Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have,” Pomsel said.

Historians said Goebbels killed himself the day after Hitler did the same, as Allied forces closed in on Berlin in the spring of 1945.

Click for more from The Guardian.

Painting taken from Hitler’s wall by US soldier up for auction

The painting by Ernst Friedrich (Henry Aldridge and Son).

The painting by Ernst Friedrich (Henry Aldridge and Son).

A painting taken from the wall of Adolf Hitler’s headquarters in the Bavarian Alps by a U.S. soldier is up for auction in the U.K. later this month.

The oil painting by Ernst Friedrich was recovered from Hitler’s Berghof residence in May 1945 by Sgt. Herson Whitley of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. “He obtained it by taking it off a wall in Hitlers [sic] retreat in Berchtesgaden at the end of the war,” explained Whitley’s daughter, in a letter that accompanies the painting. “Note there is a crack along the upper corner which my father said occurred during shipping it home from Europe.”

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Measuring 18 inches by 13 inches, the artwork depicts Wawel castle and cathedral in Krakow, Poland. The painting, which has a pre-sale estimate of $7,777 to $12,962, will be auctioned by Henry Aldridge & Son in Devizes, U.K., on Aug. 20.

Whitley was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Croix de Guerre for his wartime service.

In addition to the letter from Whitley’s daughter, the “provenance package” accompanying the picture includes the soldier’s medals, Dog Tags, patches and letters from his time serving in Europe.

“To be offering a piece of World War Two history of this calibre that hung in the residence of Adolf Hitler that was recovered by a decorated war hero with such superb provenance represents a rare opportunity for a collector,” auctioneer Andrew Aldridge of Henry Aldridge and Son, told FoxNews.com.

The auction house notes that Krakow was the administrative center of Nazi-occupied Poland. Hans Frank, Hitler’s lawyer and friend, was Governor General of Occupied Poland and lived at the Wawel castle. Frank was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trials and executed.

Other artworks recovered from the Nazis during World War II have sparked controversy recently. Earlier this year research alleged that when artworks rescued by the famous Monuments Men were returned to the Bavarian state after the war, they were sold, including to some Nazi families, instead of being returned to the original Jewish owners.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Himmler’s lost diaries from ‘last phase of war’ found

The undated file photo shows German Nazi party official and head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler.

The undated file photo shows German Nazi party official and head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler. (AP Photo/str/file)

Among their 1,000 pages, the newly found diaries of Holocaust architect Heinrich Himmler track his hourly schedule—filled with activities both mundane and grotesque—over the years 1938, 1943, and 1944.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that some of Himmler’s diaries were discovered in the 1950s, and hundreds of letters surfaced in Tel Aviv more recently; these “service diaries” were reportedly taken by the Red Army, archived in Podolsk near Moscow, and forgotten.

Germany’s Bild newspaper on Tuesday began serializing the diaries, and theTimes of London has details. Himmler began many days with a lengthy massage in an effort to assuage chronic stomach cramps.

Hours of meetings would follow (one entry shows 19 policy meetings in a four-hour span); meetings occurred with 1,600 people over the course of the diaries.

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The Times reports plenty of innocuous moments: looking at the stars and planned phone calls with his daughter Gudrun, identified as “Puppi.” But interspersed are execution orders, the purchase of guard dogs for Auschwitz, and movements that sound innocuous but were anything but.

A February 2, 1943, entry lists a visit to the Sobibor death camp for “inspection of special commando”; the Times reports his visit was to include a demonstration of gassing, and 400 women and girls were reportedly brought to the camp from a nearby city for that purpose.

The German Historical Institute has authenticated the diaries, and its director says that what appears to be “rather dry” is actually very valuable. “We get a better structural understanding of the last phase of the war,” says Nikolaus Katzer.

Himmler killed himself with a cyanide pill in May 1945. (A trove of personal documents revealed more about Himmler.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Himmler’s Lost Diaries Reveal Nazi’s Last Years

AP Photos: In Brazil’s Amazon, worship with psychedelic tea

  • In this June 22, 2016 photo, a boatman gets ready to cross the Purus river near the city of Boca do Acre, Amazonas state, Brazil. The Purus river provides the main access to the community of Ceu do Mapia in a trip of more than four hours deep in the Amazon jungle of western Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

    In this June 22, 2016 photo, a boatman gets ready to cross the Purus river near the city of Boca do Acre, Amazonas state, Brazil. The Purus river provides the main access to the community of Ceu do Mapia in a trip of more than four hours deep in the Amazon jungle of western Brazil. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) (The Associated Press)

Canoes slide through a narrow river, dodging branches and trees for more than four hours to reach a tiny village deep in the Amazon jungle of western Brazil.

The community’s culture revolves around an ancient psychedelic tea locals know as the Holy Daime. The Ayahuasca brew is sacred to Ceu do Mapia villagers, who use it in rituals that blend Indian beliefs with Roman Catholicism.

The Cult of the Holy Daime was started in 1930 by a descendant of slaves. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that rubber tapper Sebastiao Mota de Melo, nicknamed Godfather Sebastiao, took hundreds of followers deeper into the forest to create a new village that would live by the doctrine of the Ayahuasca tea. People here believe the drink heals the body and expands the mind.

“There was nothing here. We had this cleansing ceremony with a candle and we built a house for everyone, for all the people who arrived first. We were all family,” said Rita Gregorio de Melo, wife of Sebastiao and the village’s matriarch.

Melo died in 1990, but his wife, who is now 91, still heads the sect with her two sons.

Brewing the sacramental tea is a ritual in itself. Men chant to a steady rhythm, banging mallets on jungle vines called Jagube. In a giant pot, a man cooks the juice that comes out of the hammered vines and mixes it with a plant with hallucinogenic properties named Psychotria viridis.

The tea is used several times during religious ceremonies, but otherwise not usually more than weekly. While the hallucinogenic effects are usually moderate, drinkers say it helps facilitate spiritual connections.

On a recent evening, villagers gathered for a celebration. Women wore shiny white crowns on their heads, green sashes over their shoulders and green belts around their waists.

At the church, Alfredo Gregorio de Melo, son of the village founder and spiritual leader of Holy Daime, lit candles on a table shaped like the Star of David. Men and women lined up in two separate rows to drink the tea after making the sign of the cross. They then sang together prayers and psalms in a large circle.

“The Daime is everything to me. It saved me from death,” said Luiz Lopes de Freitas, a village man. “I found a world that heals and teaches faith.”