May 31, 2011

May 31st: Death of Grimaldi the Clown, 1837

He was the first "white-face" clown, and an innovator in many aspects of public entertainment. Every year, clowns from all over the world congregate to honor him. Read article here

Pictured: 1820 illustration of Grimaldi, artist unknown.

May 30, 2011

May 30th: Pearl Hart Robs a Stage Coach, 1899

It was one of the last stage coach robberies to take place. And, one of the perpetrators was a woman. Read article here.

Pictured: Pearl Hart in prison. From "An Arizona Episode," Cosmopolitan, May-October 1899. From Wikimedia Commons

May 29, 2011

May 29th: Oak Apple Day

Today is Oak Apple Day, a celebration of the English Restoration.

Read article here.

Pictured: Oak Apple, photo by Bob Embleton. Posted on Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License.

May 28, 2011

May 28th: Dionne Quintuplets Born, 1934

The Dionne Quintuplets, born in 1934, had a very strange life.  Read article here

Pictured: the Dionne Quintuplets, age 13. From Library and Archives Canada, as presented on Wikimedia Commons. 

May 27, 2011

May 27: Plague Breaks Out in San Francisco

The Bubonic Plague broke out in San Francisco in 1907. It was an aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake (and fire), probably caused by the rats who were displaced in the destruction.

A few years earlier, the city had faced another outbreak of the Plague, made worse by the denial of local businessmen and even Governor Henry Gage, who denied that there was any plague.

Read article here

Pictured: Henry Gage, the infamous governor. By unknown photographer, about 1903.

May 26, 2011

May 26: Pauline Parker born, 1838

Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme killed Pauline's mother because she was trying to separate the girls. Read story here.

Or, you can watch the movie, Heavenly Creatures, available at

May 25, 2011

May 25th: Towel Day


Do you know where your towel is?

Read article here.

Pictured: Towel Day celebration in Innsbruck. Photo by Ammit, posted on Wikimedia Commons.

May 24, 2011

May 24th: Death of Old Tom Morris, 1908

Old Tom Morris was one of the pioneers of professional golfing. In addition to playing -- and winning -- he designed and maintained courses, taught, and manufactured golfing equipment. Read article here

Pictured: Old Tom Morris and his son, Young Tom Morris. From the July 1902 issue of Golf, the official bulletin of the USGA. Photograph by Thomas Rodger.

May 23, 2011

May 23: The Second Defenestration of Prague, 1618

Prague -- where there are so many defenestrations they have to number them. Read article here

Woodcut by Matthaus Merian the Elder (1593-1650)

May 22, 2011

May 22nd: Brooks Beats Sumner -- With His Cane, 1856

Congressman Preston Brooks took exception to a speech that Senator Charles Sumner made in the Senate. So he beat him with his cane.

Read why and what happened next here.

Pictured: 1856 lithograph by John L. Magee depicting the event. "Southern Chivalry -- Argument versus Club."

May 21, 2011

May 21: Fatal Accident at Los Alamos, 1946

On May 21, 1946, Louis Slotin was demonstrating the first steps of a fisson reaction. He had two half-spheres of beryllium, separated with the tip of a screwdriver, around a core of plutonium. The screwdriver slipped. Read article here.

Pictured: Recreation of the experiment (simulated). Photo from the US Department of Energy (or its predecessor organization.) From Wikimedia Commons. 

May 20, 2011

May 20: Accident at the Palais Garnier

Today is the anniversary of the chandelier accident at the Palais Garnier, which helped inspire Gaston Leroux's masterpiece, The Phantom of the Opera.  Read article here

Pictured: The Grand Foyer of the Palais Garnier, as it appeared in 2008. Photograph by Eric Pouhier, modified by Rainer Zenz and Niabot under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, and published on Wikimedia Commons. 

May 19, 2011

May 19th: Death of "James Tiptree, Jr."

"James Tiptree Jr." was the pseudonym of a well-known science fiction writer, with a background in the military, the CIA, and degrees in Experimental Psychology. The one thing he wasn't was a man. Read article

Pictured: Alice Sheldon ("James Tiptree Jr.") as a child. Photograph from 1921 or 1924, posted by Neotex555 on Wikimedia Commons.

May 18, 2011

May 18th: Christopher Marlowe Arrested for Heresy, 1593

On May 18th, Christopher Marlowe was arrested for heresy. He tried to turn himself in for 10 days, and then was killed in a brawl. Was it a political assassination? Read article here.

Pictured: This may be a picture of Christopher Marlowe. He is not identified as such, but he is about the right age, and fits the descriptions we have of him. The inscription in the upper left hand corner reads: "AD 1585, 21 years old. That which nourishes me destroys me."

May 17, 2011

May 17th: First Kentucky Derby, 1875

Aristides was the winner of the first Kentucky Derby in 1875. His owner didn't intend for him to win. Read article here

Pictured: Aristides. Etching by C. Lloyd, first published in Famous Horses of America: Containing fifty-nine portraits of the celebrities of the American turf past and present, 1877.

May 16, 2011

May 16: Boswell meets Johnson, 1783

On May 16, 1783, James Boswell met Samuel Johnson for the first time. The rest is -- biography.

Pictured: A Literary Party at Sir Joshua Reynolds' by Dr. George Thompson, after the style of James William Edmund Doyle, 1851.
From left to right: James Boswell, Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds (painter), David Garrick (actor), Edmund Burke (statesman), Pascal Paoli (Corsican soldier), Charles Burney (musician), Thomas Warton (historian), and Oliver Goldsmith (author).

May 15, 2011

May 15th: First Machine Gun Patented, 1718

It was invented by James Puckle, and it was called the Defence Gun. It could fire 63 shots in 7 minutes.

The gun could fire two kinds of bullets: round ones, for Christian enemies, and square ones for the Muslim Turks, to show them the advantages of Christianity.
Read article here.

Pictured: The Puckle Defence gun. From an 1896 publication by George O. Shields.

May 14, 2011

May 14th: First public performance of The Stars and Stripes Forever

On May 14, 1897, The Stars and Stripes Forever was first played publicly. John Philip Sousa composed his most famous March on Christmas Day, 1896, after learning of the death of his manager. Read article here.

Pictured: John Philip Sousa, photo by E. Chickering, 1900.

May 13, 2011

May 13th: First Fleet left for Australia, 1787

On this date, the First Fleet left for Australia, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillips. The result would be the first permanent English settlement in Australia.

Pictured: Captain Phillips, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

May 12th: Edward Lear's Birthday, 1812

He wrote "The Owl and the Pussycat" and "The Pobble Who Has No Toes." His poems are fun and cheerful, but the man led a sad life. Read article here

May 11, 2011

May 11: Find at Sutton Hoo, 1939

It was one of the greatest archaeology finds in England. The great ship burial dated from the 7th century AD. Read article here.

Pictured: Replica of ceremonial helmet from Sutton Hoo. Photo by Ziko-C, posted on Wikimedia Commons. 

May 10, 2011

May 10: Astor Place Theater Riot, 1849

Today is the anniversary of the Opera House Riot in New York City. It all started over a rivalry between two Shakespearean actors. Read article here.

Pictured: Edward Forrest.

Engraving by H. Meyer, 1836, from a painting by James Warren Childe.

May 9, 2011

May 9th: J. M. Barrie's Birthday, 1860

Today is the birthday of J. M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. Read article here.

Photo by J. M. Barrie, 1906. Michael Llewelyn Davies, dressed as Peter pan.

May 8, 2011

May 8th: Execution of Antoine Lavoisier, 1794

Antoine Lavoisier is known as the Father of Modern Chemistry. He was also guillotined during the French Revolution. Read article here.

Pictured: Antoine Lavoisier and his wife. Portrait by Jacque-Louis David, 1788.  She was only 13 when he married her, but she ended up being a great lab assistant.

May 7, 2011

May 7th: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Premiered, 1824

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony premiered on May 7, 1824 at the Kartnertortheater in Vienna. Read more. 

Pictured: the Kartnertortheater, by Carl Wenzel Zajicek, 1860-1923

May 6, 2011

May 6th: Louis XIV Moves into Versailles, 1682

On this date in 1682, Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles. Read article here.

Pictured: Versailles as it appeared in 1668. Painting by Pierre Patel.

May 5, 2011

May 5: First Patent Awarded to Woman in US, 1809

On May 5, 1809, the first patent to a woman was given by the US Patent Office. Women had been eligible to receive patents since 1790, but this was the first one awarded. It was for a technique to make straw hats. Read article here.

Pictured: portrait of Philippine Bohmer by Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller, about 1817.

May 4, 2011

May 4th: Greenwich Royal Observatory Commissioned, 1675

The British Royal Observatory was commissioned by Charles II, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was the first building in England dedicated to scientific research. Read article here.

Pictured: the Royal Observatory (Flamsteed House) as it appeared in the 19th century. Watercolor by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, 1824,

May 3, 2011

May 3rd: The Old Man of the Mountains Collapses, 2003

The Old Man of the Mountains was actually a set of five cliff ridges. When viewed from a certain angle, it appeared as a human profile. Read more. 

Pictured: photograph by Jeffrey Joseph, from Wikimedia Commons. 

May 2, 2011

May 2: First Ascent of Shishapangma, 1964

The mountain Shishapangma was first climbed on May 2nd, 1964. It's the lowest of the 14 "eight-thousanders", but the last to be climbed, due to its location. Read article here.

Beautiful picture, isn't it? Photo is by Swinelin and posted at Wikimedia Commons.  In Sanskrit, the name of the mountain is Gosainthan, or Abode of God. 

May 1, 2011

May 1st: May Day

Guinevere Maying, by John Maler Collier, 1900.

This is what I always thought May Day should be about, but my high school thought it should be about the superiority of the American Way of Life.

Read about the history of Law Day, Loyalty Day, International Labour Day, and the Haymarket Massacre here.