May 29, 2015

It Happened on May 29th

Oak Apple Day/ Royal Oak Day

Oak with acorn and oak apple
When the English Monarchy was restored under Charles II in 1660, Parliament declared May 29th a public holiday. In the words of diarist Samuel Pepys, it was "to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government, he entering London that day."

The significance of the oak lies in the story of the Battle of Worcester. The future king, on that occasion, evaded the Roundhead army by hiding inside an oak tree. The Royal Oak became a symbol of the Restoration, and the tradition was that loyalists were to wear a sprig of oak in their lapel or bonnet. (If you didn't wear the oak, you could be pelted with birds' eggs or lashed with nettles.)

James II
The holiday could also be observed by the wearing of an "oak apple." An oak apple is actually a gall that can be found growing on an oak tree. It is caused by chemicals that are injected into the tree by some species of wasps, creating a growth that vaguely resembles an apple.

The public holiday part was abolished in 1959, but the tradition lingers on in various communities throughout England. It's not quite clear that we're still celebrating the Restoration, however. After all, the oak tree has a long history of pre-Christian pagan beliefs.

T. H. White Born, 1906

White lecturing. ©Araujojoan96/Wikimedia Commons
Terence Hanbury White didn't have a particular happy childhood. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother wasn't particularly affectionate. His parents separated when he was 14.

Although born in Bombay (then in British India), White public school in Gloucestershire, and then went to Queens' College, Cambridge. In college, he wrote a thesis on Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. He hadn't read the book.

After college, White taught for four years, and published his memoir, England Have My Bones. The book was fairly well received, and White was able to leave teaching. He retired to a woodsman's cottage, where he lived in a "feral" state, as he called it,  writing, hawking, hunting, and fishing.

Time passed slowly at the cottage, and one day, out of boredom, he picked up a copy of Malory. He was astounded at how riveting the book was. He started writing a book about Arthur's childhood, which he envisioned as a sort of "preface to Malory."

1st edition ©Harper Collins
The book was The Sword in the Stone, and it was immediately successful. It got good critical reviews, and became a Book of the Month selection in 1939. Later he completed and published two sequels, The Witch in the Wood (later retitled The Queen of Air and Darkness) and The Ill-Made Knight. These three novels, along with the fourth section, The Candle in the Wind were published together as The Once and Future King in 1958. (The Candle in the Wind was never published separately.)

The Once and Future King, of course, is the basis for the musical play and movie, Camelot. The Sword in the Stone was made into an animated film by the Disney studios.

White also had a tremendous influence on later authors, including Michael Moorcock, J. K. Rowling (whose Dumbledore is frequently compared to White's Merlin), Neil Gaiman, and Gregory Maguire. Among White's other works are Mistress Masham's Repose, The Goshawk, and The Book of Beasts.

Hoover Dam Completed, 1935

Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam was an enormous undertaking, involving thousands of workers. Over a hundred men died in its creation.

Naturally, for such a large undertaking, provisions had to be made for the housing of the workers. The answer to this was the creation of Boulder City.

The construction of Boulder City had been contracted to Six Companies, Inc., the construction company that also received the contract to build Hoover Dam. They were under a huge amount of pressure to get the main project going, and, as a result, when the first workers got there in 1931, Boulder City wasn't ready.

The city of Las Vegas was already swamped. Unemployed workers had started flooding in as soon as plans for the dam were announced, and the city of 5,000 residents had been inundated with perhaps 20,000 more.

A government camp had been set up for the surveyors and other pre-construction personnel, and a squatters camp, called McKeeversville, had grown up around it. There was another camp called Ragtown, set up along the Colorado River.

When work on the dam began, Six Companies set up bunkhouses -- enough to house 480 single men (out of the 3,000 or so who were the initial work crew on the dam.) Men with families were on their own. Most of them settled in the squatters camps, where the conditions were far from ideal. That summer the temperatures averaged 119 degrees, and at least 16 people died of heat prostration.

Into this environment, the Industrial Workers of the World (the "Wobblies") sent Union organizers. The dam workers didn't want to be associated with the Wobblies, so they sent them off, but then they formed their own list of demands. When they were refused, they went on strike.

Boulder City under construction
Six Companies sent in strike-breakers who settled the strike quickly, although violently -- the "guns and clubs" method of negotiation -- and the strikers were soon back to work. However, Six Companies decided they'd better do something about the housing situation, and Boulder City was soon completed.

Not wanting any more trouble, the national Bureau of Reclamation banned alcohol, gambling, and union membership in Boulder City. Even today, gambling is illegal in Boulder City -- one of only two towns in Nevada where that is true. (The other is Panaca, which was originally founded as a Mormon settlement.) Alcohol sales were not permitted there until 1969.

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