May 24, 2015

It Happened on May 24th

Old Tom Morris

Old Tom Morris Dies, 1908

Old Tom Morris was one of the first golf "professionals." He began his career with a street game called "sillybodkins," played with a cork pierced with nails, and a homemade club. He also began caddying as a youngster, and by the time he was 14 he was officially an apprentice to Allan Robertson, the world's first professional golfer.

In those days, there was a lot more to being a golfer than just playing in tournaments. Robertson ran the links at St. Andrews and had a good business in the manufacture of equipment -- both clubs and golf balls, which were then made out of leather pouches stuffed with feathers. (The feathers were boiled and stuffed into the pouch when wet. As they dried, a hard, compact ball was created.) He also caddied, taught, and played for money. It was said that Robertson had never lost an individual match when playing for stakes, although he sometimes played badly in order to minimize his handicap. Morris apprenticed with Robertson for four years, and then served as a journeyman for an additional five years. Robertson often chose him as a partner when playing championship matches. The two playing as a team were never defeated, either.

Allan Robertson didn't like those new-fangled gutta-percha balls.
All that came to an end in 1851, when Robertson caught Morris playing with one of the new gutta-percha balls. Gutta-percha was a rubber-like material made from the sap of a Malaysian tree, and the new style balls were becoming increasingly popular. "Gutties" were much cheaper to produce than the labor-intensive "featheries" and were also popular because of their more aerodynamic qualities. Robertson's 100 year old business was being threatened by the new invention and he didn't like it. He fired Morris on the spot.

Morris went to work for the new Prestwick Golf Club. There, he designed and laid out the course, maintained the greens, ran his own equipment business (gutties and clubs), taught, and ran events. He was largely responsible for the first The Open Championship in 1860.

Allan Robertson died in 1859 and in 1864 Old Tom was rehired by St. Andrews. The course was in very bad condition when he returned, but he soon but it to rights. At both Prestwick and St. Andrews, Morris did a great deal to develop the art and science of greens-keeping. He also designed a number of other golf courses, charging ₤ 1 a day plus expenses. Among the golf courses he worked on were: Carnoustie, Kinghorn, Muirfield, Balcomie Moray, South Ulst, Lahinch, Rosapenna, Warkworth, and Royal North Devon.

Old Tom playing with his son, Young Tom.
Morris's victories in the field of competitive golf are almost too many to mention. One that bears noting, however, is his record for the largest margin of victory in a major championship. His record of 13 strokes in 1862 held until overturned by Tiger Woods in the 2000 Open. (Tiger won by 15 strokes.)

Morris was called Old Tom to distinguish him from his son, Young Tom Morris (or Tom Morris Junior) who was also a champion of the sport. Young Tom died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 24, just four months after the death of his wife and newborn child in labor. He had received word that his wife was in difficulty while he was playing with his father in a team match, with only two holes left to play. He finished the match before leaving.





Henry Irving Knighted, 1895

Henry Irving, gifted actor and model for Dracula.
His birth name was John Henry Brodribb but he adopted the stage name of Henry Irving in his first stage appearance at the age of 18. Later, he would assume it legally.

He was a tall, slender man, clean-shaven, with hair a little bit longer than fashionable. He had elegant, gentlemanly manners, and an aristocratic demeanor. There was never any doubt in his mind that he was born to be an actor, and, after his initial successes at the Lyceum Theatre, there few doubts in anyone else's mind either.

His first big role there was in a play he had discovered himself, The Bells, which ran for 150 nights. A later performance, a somewhat unconventional depiction of Hamlet, ran for 200 nights and quickly established him as the most interesting actor in England. He recruited the actress Ellen Terry for the Lyceum, which only increased the popularity of his plays, and went on to myriad other successes. In 1895 he received his knighthood from Queen Victoria.

Irving's life was also distinguished by his friendship with Bram Stoker, his personal assistant and the business manager of the Lyceum for 27 years. Stoker idolized Irving, traveled with him on his tours, and even wrote a biography of him. He also used Irving's mannerisms and demeanor as a model for the title character in the novel that would make Stoker immortal, Dracula.

Drilling Begins on Kola Superdeep Borehole, 1970

Russian stamp honoring the Kola Superdeep
The Kola Borehole was a scientific drilling project done begun by the USSR in the Kola Peninsula of northwest Russia. It consists of a central borehole, with a number of boreholes branching off from it. One of them, the SG-3, is the deepest hole ever drilled. It was also formerly the longest borehole, until surpassed by the Al Shaheen oil well in Qatar in 2008 and the Sakhalin-I Odoptu Well in Russia in 2011.

Obviously, the site was an important one for geophysical research, very little of which I understand. I say "was" because the project was abandoned in 2005 due to lack of funding, and the site has been abandoned since 2008.

All this background is a lead-in to a story about another Russian borehole, the so-called "Well to Hell." This story was first picked up by Finnish newspapers, and made the transition to the English language in an 1898 broadcast by the American Christian television network, Trinity Broadcasting.

According to the story, drilling for the borehole, which was located in Siberia, had gone down nine miles before encountering a cavity. Lowering special heat-resistant equipment into the cavity, scientists were able to determine that the temperature there was 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. And, oh yes, the microphones were able to pick up the screams of the damned.

A Norwegian teacher, Age Rendalen, heard the story on Trinity Broadcasting while vacationing in the United States. Disgusted with the gullibility of the public, and completely disgusted with TBN, he decided to take the story one step further. He wrote a letter to the network, claiming that he had been initially skeptical, until he had read about the event in a respected Finnish newspaper. He provided a "translation" of the article, which claimed that not only were the previous details true, but that a glowing creature with bat-like wings had emerged from the hole in a cloud of luminous gas. The words "I have conquered" (in Russian, of course) were emblazoned in the sky. For "verification", Rendalen also provided the article in the original Finnish. The article he provided was actually a rather dull piece about a Norwegian building inspector. Although he provided his own name and contact information, and that of a pastor friend, TBN did not contact either person before publicizing his account as "proof" of the story.

In case you have any doubt, yes, the "Well to Hell" story was a hoax.

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