May 31, 2015

It Happened on May 31st

Death of Grimaldi the Clown, 1837

Grimaldi as "Joey" the clown.
Joseph Grimaldi is the most famous of British clowns, and is said to have been the original white-faced clown.

He was born into the trade: his father, "Iron Legs" Grimaldi, was a pantomimist and ballet-master, and his mother was a theater dancer. He first appeared on-stage at the age of two, and by the time he was three, he was a regular performer.

Before Grimaldi, the clown was a stock figure on the stage but he was basically a rural bumpkin. Grimaldi combined that character with the Italian character of Harlequin, developing the first modern clown.

Grimaldi also developed the tradition of audience participation. One of his songs was called Hot Codlins, about an old woman who sold toffee apples, or "hot codlins." Part of the song went, "So to keep herself warm, she thought it no sin, to fetch for herself, a quartern of ..." Here the audience would shout "gin!" and Grimaldi would give them a disappointed and shocked look, which sent them into fits of laughter.

Grimaldi's memoirs were edited by Charles Dickens.
Although enormously popular, Grimaldi never profited much financially from his trade. At the age of 45, ill, exhausted, and scarcely able to walk, he retired. By the time he was 48, he was penniless. A benefit performance was held for him, and he was awarded a pension of  £100 a year by the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund. In his final years, he spent his days at the Cornwallis Tavern in Pentonville, and was carried to his lodgings every night by the tavern landlord. He died at the age of 59. His memoirs, edited by Charles Dickens, were published a year after his death.

Every year, on the first Sunday in February, a memorial service his held in his honor at All Saints' Church in Hackney. Clowns from all over the world, each in full costume and makeup, attend.

Walt Whitman Born, 1819

Walt Whitman, circa 1869
Only four years after his death, Walt Whitman was hailed by foreign critics as "the greatest of all American poets," but during his own lifetime, and in his own country, his works were often met with criticism and scorn.

The son of a Quaker carpenter of somewhat liberal and "free-thinking" views, Walt Whitman only received 6 years of education in the Brooklyn public schools. In his early life, he worked as a teacher, a journalist, and an editor. He wrote and published numerous political pieces.

Leaves of Grass, his most famous work, was initially self-published. The first (1855) edition consisted of 12 untitled poems and a preface. He sent a copy of it to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who praised it highly. The second edition, which he published a year later, contained 33 poems, a letter from Emerson, and his response to Emerson's letter.

The work was poorly received, except in select literary circles. In general, it was considered too graphic in its depiction of the body. At one point, Whitman was discharged from his government position in the Indian Affairs Department on the charge that he had written a "dirty book."

Outside of the United States, however, the book was an immediate hit. Over the years, it gained support in the U.S., especially from the younger poets. It has been said that all poetry since Leaves of Grass has been influenced by it -- either in an attempt by the poet to be like Whitman, or an attempt to not be like him.

Whitman continued to revise and refine his greatest work throughout his life.

Martin Frobisher Sails for Canada, 1578

Sir Martin Frobisher
You could say that Martin Frobisher paved the streets of London with gold. Unfortunately for him, it was only fool's gold.

Frobisher began his life on the sea at the age of 18. His first two voyages were to Guinea on a trading expedition, but he also operated as a pirate and a privateer, sometimes with royal permission and sometimes not. He was arrested for piracy in England at least three times, but was always dismissed. Apparently, the ratio of profit to damages was always in his favor.

The first of his three expeditions to the New World took place in 1576. It had taken him years to get permission and backing for the voyage, the goal of which was to find a new passage to China through the "Northwest Passage" that he was sure existed. He left with three ships: the Gabriel, of about 20 tons, the Michael, of about 25, and a 10-ton pinnacle. There were 35 crew members in all.

In a storm at sea, the ships became separated. The pinnacle was lost, and the Michael returned to England to report the other two ships lost. Frobisher sailed to Canada with the Gabriel.

The trip was not very successful. Frobisher found no route to China, and five men were lost, apparently captured by Inuits on Baffin Island. They brought back a few samples, including a piece of black rock that one of the men had picked up at the last moment. It was sent to four assayers for analysis.

One of the four assayers who examined it said the rock contained gold. That was good enough for Frobisher's backers, and they organized another expedition. Queen Elizabeth, always a shrewd investor, contributed £1000 and the use of one of her ships for this one. Frobisher was told to forget about his Northwest Passage for the time being and concentrate on collecting gold.

Elizabeth I invested in the expedition.
Three ships sailed again for Baffin Island -- the Gabriel, the Michael, and the queen's Ayde. 150 men were on board, including gentlemen, miners, and soldiers. They brought back 200 tons of ore, and three Inuit natives -- who died about a month after they landed in England. The queen thanked Frobisher and hustled him off on a third voyage. The ore was stored in the Tower of London, under quadruple locks.

On May 31st, 1578, 15 ships left Harwich, England for the Baffin Island. They aimed this time to create a settlement there with about 100 men. Queen Elizabeth herself had picked a name for the new land -- Meta Incognita.

One ship deserted and returned to England. Another was crushed by the ice -- the men were saved, but most of the timber they had brought for building was lost. The idea of building a colony was abandoned, but the 13 remaining ships returned with about 2000 tons of ore.

Meanwhile, attempts were being made to refine the ore into gold -- attempts that would continue until at least 1583. It was no use; the ore was iron pyrite, known as "fool's gold" and essentially worthless. Some of the ore was used to pave roads, and the rest was thrown into the Bristol Harbor.

Frobisher's backers were bankrupted by the expeditions, but Frobisher managed to move on. He married his second wife (his first had died shortly after his return from his third voyage), who made him both wealthy and a landowner. He joined the British navy a few years later, and was knighted for his role in defeating the Spanish Armada.

May 30, 2015

It Happened on May 30th

Andrew Jackson Wins Duel, 1806


The quarrel started over a horse race.

Jackson owned a horse named Truxton, of whom he was very proud. Joseph Erwin, a neighbor, owned a horse named Ploughboy, with whom he was equally pleased. Erwin challenged Jackson to a horse race, Jackson accepted, and the race was scheduled. Then Ploughboy went lame, and the race was called off. Erwin paid a forfeit. There had been heavy betting among Jackson and Erwin's friends and associates, and some disputes took place.

Erwin's son-in-law, Charles Dickinson, was one of the most vehement, possibly because he was one of the most heavily liquored. He was also bitterly jealous of Jackson -- they were rival lawyers in the same community at the time. Dickinson continued to bad-mouth Jackson at every chance he got, and not just about the race.

Rachel Donelson, not quite divorced.
Jackson, as you may know, had been "married" to the lovely Rachel Donelson for two years before her divorce from her previous husband became final. It was entirely an error on Jackson's part (he thought they had been legally divorced), but it was an error that would haunt him all his life. It seemed that whenever anyone got angry at Jackson, Rachel's name came into the name-calling. Dickinson was no exception.

Jackson called Dickinson a "base poltroon and a cowardly talebearer." Dickinson called Jackson a "worthless scoundrel, a base poltroon, and a coward." Both Jackson and Dickinson had friends who were eager to urge the quarrel along, for both personal and political reasons.

Dickinson's denunciation of Jackson was actually printed in the Nashville Review, so there was no ignoring it. Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel.

Charles Dickinson, the man Jackson killed.
Dueling was illegal in Tennessee, so the two men met just over the state line, in Kentucky. Everyone in the area was aware of Dickinson's reputation with a dueling iron, and he was heavily favored to win. According to the duel etiquette of the day, Dickinson would fire first and Jackson, if he was still alive, could then return fire.

Dickinson fired. Jackson remained standing, apparently unhurt. Dickinson exclaimed, "Great God! Have I missed him?" Jackson then took aim, but the pistol locked at half-cock. According to dueling etiquette, this was not a fire, so Jackson still had his shot. He took careful aim and fired, gut-shooting Dickinson. Dickinson died two hours later at a hotel.

Jackson in old age.
As Jackson and his second, Thomas Overton, left the dueling field, Overton noticed that one of Jackson's boots was filling with blood. Jackson had been shot. Dickinson had aimed for his heart, but Jackson, standing sideways and wearing bulky clothing over his thin frame, had misled him as to his anatomy. Jackson suffered several broken ribs and a bullet that lodged in his chest, so close to his heart that it could never be removed. Jackson was to say later, "I should have hit him if he had shot me through the brain."


Henry VIII Weds Jane Seymour, 1536

Portrait by Hans Holbein
Jane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII. He became engaged to her on the day following Anne Boleyn's execution. She was said to have been Henry's favorite wife -- possibly because she was the only one to give him a son, but almost certainly also because she didn't live long enough to annoy him.

Jane had been a lady in waiting to both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. She was said to have a child-like face and a modest demeanor. The court took a very different turn once Jane became queen. Gone were the extravagant entertainments of Anne Boleyn's court, and instead there was a strict observation of court protocol and decorum. There were rules about such details as how many pearls could be sewn into a lady's skirt. Of course, the French fashions that Anne had introduced to court were now banned.

Although generally not getting involved in political matters, Jane did endeavor to restore the Princess Mary to the line of succession. Henry refused, but Jane did manage to reconcile the two on a personal level.

Jane gave birth to the future King Edward IV on October 12th, 1537. Her labor lasted two days and three nights. She died on October 24th, 1537, of complications from the delivery, probably either a retained placenta or puerperal fever.

Pearl Hart Robs a Stage Coach, 1899

Pearl's mug shot.
It was one of the last stage coach robberies of the Old West. Even more amazing, it was performed by a woman.

Pearl Hart was born Pearl Taylor in 1861 in Lindsay, Ontario, the daughter of religious and affluent parents. At the age of 16 she eloped with a young man named Hart -- Brett, William, or maybe Frank, take your pick, details about his name are a little contradictory. He was said to be a rake and a gambler, and undoubtedly a drunkard as well. Pearl soon found him abusive and returned to her parents. The couple would separate and reconcile several times throughout their marriage. The pair had two children, which Pearl left in the care of her mother.

At the age of 22, Pearl and her husband attended the Chicago World's Fair where he worked as a midway barker. Pearl was fascinated by the Wild West shows, and, when the Fair was over, she went to Colorado with a piano player named Dan Bandman. Soon she split with Bandman, and went from town to town working as a cook, singer, and probably a prostitute. She was said to enjoy the benefits of tobacco, alcohol, and morphine.

In 1898, Hart was working in Mammoth, Arizona, either working as a cook, or running a brothel near a local mine. When the mine closed, her income dried up. She also received a message from her mother, who was seriously ill and wanted her to return, but she had no money for travel.

Hart and a friend, Joe Boot (probably an alias), tried working a mining claim that he owned, but were not successful. Plan B was for them to rob the Globe to Florence stage coach.

There had been no stage coach robberies in the area for some time, so the coach didn't have a shotgun attendant. Hart and Boot stopped it, took the $431.20 it contained, as well as two firearms belonging to passengers and the driver's revolver. Hart then returned $1 to each passenger and the pair rode away. Hart had cut her hair short and dressed in men's clothing.

The pair was arrested on June 5th, and Hart was transferred to Tucson, while Boot remained in Florence. (Florence didn't have accommodations for female prisoners.) The room in which Hart was held was made of lathe and plaster, and Hart managed to dig an 18-inch hole through the wall and escape. She was captured two weeks later.

Pearl in her jail cell.
At the trial, Hart made a moving plea for mercy, citing her need to return to her ill mother. The two were acquitted by the jury (much to the displeasure of the judge) but were immediately rearrested for tampering with the US Mail. A second trial found them guilty. Hart received a five year sentence. Boot received a sentence of 30 years, but managed to escape after only two.

In December of 1902, Hart received a pardon from Governor Alexander Brodie, on the condition that she would leave the territory. The reason for the pardon is unknown. There was, however, a rumor that Hart was pregnant at the time, and that knowledge of the fact would embarrass the prison. Since Hart apparently never had a third child, it may have been a ploy on her part.

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.

May 28, 2015

It Happened on May 28th

Dionne Quintuplets Born, 1934

6 years old!
Elzira Dionne thought she might be having twins. She and her husband, Oliva, already had five children, two boys and three girls, aged 8 years to 11 months. When Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe, with the help of two midwives, helped her deliver five baby girls, both parents were astounded. Dr. Dafoe thought he might lose the mother, and more or less took for granted that the babies would die.

The babies were stashed into a wicker clothes basket borrowed from a neighbor, and wrapped in heated blankets. There were placed in the kitchen by the open door of the stove. One by one, they were taken out and rubbed with olive oil. They were given water sweetened with corn syrup to drink.

The following day they graduated into a larger clothes basket, and soon their food was upgraded, as well -- to a mixture of cow's milk, boiled water, and corn syrup, with a drop or two of rum. Oliva's brother asked the local newspaper the cost for a birth announcement for five babies from a single birth, and the media was up and running.

Contributions started pouring in from all over North America. When he learned how startling his progeny were, Oliva signed a contract to exhibit them at the Chicago Century of Progress Exhibition. The Canadian public was outraged. How dare the Dionne's subject "our" quints to American hucksterism?

The Quints in 1937.
The Canadian government stepped in and declared the parents unfit to raise the quintuplets. The girls were made Wards of the Province. A board of guardians was set up, with Dr. Dafoe calling most of the shots. A hospital/home was set up for the quints, just across the road from their birth home. There they remained for the next nine years.

The girls were named Yvonne, Annette, Cecile, Emilie, and Marie. Emilie and Marie had shared an embryonic sac, as had Annette and Yvonne. It was believed that Cecile had shared a sac with a 6th embryo, who had miscarried. As the girls grew up, they became closest emotionally to the sibling with whom they had shared a sac. Cecile was more of a loner, compared to the other girls.

At their new home, the Dafoe Hospital and Nursery, the girls led a regimented and very public life. An observation stand was built outside their playground, with free admission and parking for tourists. They were viewed several times a day through gauze covered windows. The quints couldn't see the tourists, but they could hear them, and they always knew they were there.

Tourism is big business, and in the midst of the Depression, the Dionne Quintuplets gave Ontario's economy a big boost. Admission at Quintland, as it was called, may have been free, but a great deal of money was raised through souvenir sales. In 1934 alone, they brought in $1 million directly, and $51 in Ontario tourism. Their images were also used as product endorsements -- Karo Syrup and Quaker Oats were among the better-known products. "A percentage of profits" was turned over to the quints' trust fund.

In 1943, after a long battle, the Dionnes won back custody of their daughters. A large new house of 20 rooms (the Dionnes had three more children after the quintuplets) was built with funds from the girls' trust fund.

The parents tended to treat the five girls as a single unit, and the quintuplets received more household chores and heavier punishments than the other children. They were frequently lectured about all the trouble they had caused for the family. They were not aware until much later that it was their earnings that had purchased the family home, their cars, and expensive lifestyle.

The Dionne Quintuplets in 1947
Later in life (1995), the then-surviving quints would allege that their father had sexually molested them, usually when he took them, individually, for rides in the car. When the girls complained to a Roman Catholic priest, he told them to "continue to love [their] parents and to wear a thick coat when [they] went for car rides."

All five quintuplets left home after reaching the age of 18, and none maintained close ties with the rest of the family. Emilie died at the age of 20 of suffocation during an epileptic seizure. (She was a postulant at a convent and had asked not to be left unattended, but the nun watching her thought she was asleep and left to attend prayers. Emilie, while suffering a seizure, rolled onto her stomach and suffocated in her pillow.) Marie died at the age of 35 of a blot clot to the brain.

Yvonne, Annette, and Cecile sued the Ontario government for compensation for being taken from their parents, and for the millions of dollars they generated through Quintland tourism. The case was settled in 1998 for $4 million and an apology from Ontario Premier Mike Harris.

Yvonne died in 2001 of cancer. Annette and Cecile are still alive.

Noah Webster Dies, 1843

Noah Webster
Noah Webster is probably best known for creating the first American dictionary. It wasn't, however, the first book he ever wrote. And it certainly wasn't the most successful during his own lifetime.

Webster was a teacher, a journalist, and a political writer, but it was as a teacher that he had his greatest impact. Thoroughly disgusted with the English textbooks he was forced to teach from, he authored a 3 volume set of textbooks: a speller, a grammar, and a reader.

Webster believed that a democratic society such as ours must have a democratic language. He rejected the notion that "proper" English usage should be determined by the aristocracy, as it was in England, but rather that it should be determined by general usage. On the other hand, he strongly believed that America required a uniformity of language, spelling, and pronunciation, so that Americans would be able to understand each other. His set of textbooks was an important first step to that goal.

Webster's The Elementary Spelling Book was by far the best-selling American book of its time, selling over a million copies a year. Even at royalties of less than one cent a book, this was enough to provide Webster with a modest income throughout his life. Webster's "Americanization" of the English language is the main reason we spell so many words differently than the English -- center instead of centre and honor instead of honour. He also changed the pronunciation of tion from the European "she un" to "shun".

Title page of an edition published in the 1830's.
An American Dictionary of the English Language, when it was finally finished after 27 years of work, continued the Americanization of the English language. In addition to the reforms of his Speller and Grammar books, he added uniquely American words such as "squash", "hickory", and "chowder". The final product contained 70,000 words -- 12,000 of which had never appeared in any dictionary.

Today, his dictionary has sold more copies than any book in the English language except the Bible.

Why wasn't it more popular during Webster's lifetime? The steep $20 price tag might have had something to do with it.

May 27, 2015

It Happened on May 27th

Bubonic Plague Outbreak in San Francisco, 1907

Flea infected with the plague bacterium.
When you think about the Bubonic Plague, chances are you think about the Black Death that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. This is by far the most infamous case of the plague -- after all, it killed an estimated 30% to 60% of the people of Europe, and it took the continent's population 150 years to recover -- but it is not the only one.

The first pandemic of the disease was called the Plague of Justinian, and struck in the sixth century AD. The next major outbreak was the one that occurred in the 14th century, and kept recurring throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

And then there was the Third Pandemic, which began in China in 1855. It spread from China to Hong Kong, and then to British India. In China and India alone it killed 12 million people. It then hit Europe, Australia, parts of Africa, and even South America. In 1900, it came to San Francisco.

Honolulu burned down most of Chinatown in an effort to eradicate their plague.
The ship Australia came into San Francisco from Hong Kong. It was known that there were two cases of plague on board, and so the ship was quarantined. When the ship was searched, it was discovered that there were also 11 stowaways on board. The following morning, there were only nine -- two had apparently jumped ship, and were later found floating in the Bay. There autopsies confirmed the plague bacilli.

Despite the escape of the two plague victims, there was no immediate outbreak of plague. The quarantine seemed to have proved effective enough for the time being. Unfortunately, there was no way to quarantine the rats on board, and they were probably the reason the plague spread to the city.

In March, the body of an elderly Chinese man was discovered in the basement of a hotel in Chinatown. An autopsy found that the man had died of the plague. There were more than 18,000 Chinese (plus 2,000 Japanese) living within the 14-block area.

Dr. Kinyoun
The leader of the anti-plague efforts was Joseph Kinyoun, of the Marine Hospital Service station on Angel Island, the West Coast immigration center. He recommended a quarantine of the Chinatown area, and immediate inoculation of its residents. The Chinese objected to this treatment, denying the existence of the plague and even going so far as to hide the bodies of the deceased. Later, when quarantine was enforced, one citizen brought a lawsuit, claiming that his civil rights were being violated. (He won, the judge ruling that the residents of Chinatown were being treated differently than the rest of the citizenry.)

Meanwhile, it wasn't just the Chinese citizens who were denying the plague. Governor Henry Gage vehemently stated that there was no outbreak, and did all he could to vilify Kinyoun for "fabricating" the existence of the disease. The business community stood with Gage -- after all, rumors of plague could do nothing to help their business interests -- and most of the newspapers did so, as well. The one newspaper who believed that the plague existed was the Examiner. The Examiner was one owned by William Randolph Hearst, so the news spread quickly throughout the rest of the country.

At this point, the US Treasury Secretary (on recommendation from the Surgeon General) appointed a three-man commission to investigate the situation. Plague was confirmed.

Governor Gage: Plague? What Plague?
By the end of 1902, 100 confirmed cases of plague had been discovered, and Gage was still denying its existene. An emergency conference in Washington, D.C. met to discuss what to do. One measure contemplated was the quarantine of the entire state of California. At this point the business community decided that it had better cooperate.

By 1904, the worst of the plague was over, and Gage was out of office. Many of the older buildings in Chinatown had been demolished in an effort to diminish the rat population. There had been a total of 121 cases, and 113 deaths caused by the outbreak. It was over -- for the time being.

On April 18, 1906, San Francisco was hit by a massive earthquake, followed by a great fire. Hundreds of thousands of San Franciscans were homeless and living in crowded refugee camps under deplorable conditions. An even higher number of rats were displaced by the destruction.

The first outbreak of plague this time was on May 27, 1907. This time, the response was swift and appropriate. Local, state, and federal health and government officials all worked together to educate the population and eradicate the disease. A bounty on rats was declared. The epidemic was over by 1909, but in the meantime, fleas from the infected rats had been transferred to wild rats, squirrels, and prairie dogs. Plague is believed to now be permanently established in the western part of the United States, due to its residence in the wild animal populations.

Saint Petersburg Founded, 1703

Tsar Peter: A man with a plan.
The area where the Neva River drains into the Gulf of Finland is wet and marshy. Tsar Peter the Great had recently conquered it from Sweden, and he envisioned a modern city, which would allow Russia to take its place among the European powers. It was built on the site of a former Swedish fortress. Building was difficult in such an area, but Peter was determined to create his "window to Europe".

Forced labor was drafted from all over the country, at a rate of about 40,000 individuals a year (or about one conscriptee for every nine to 16 households, depending on the population of the area). Laborers were expected to provide their own tools and food for the journey, and were marched long distances on foot, under guard and often in shackles. The mortality rate was tremendous -- only about 50% ever reached St. Petersburg.

Peter modeled his city after such cities as Venice and Amsterdam, and intended a city in which the principle means of transport was by boat. In fact, the first permanent bridge in St. Petersburg was not built until 1850, over a hundred years after Peter's death. German engineers were imported to design St. Petersburg. The first building was a fortress, and the city radiated outwards from it. Peter forbade the construction of any stone buildings outside of St. Petersburg, so that all Russian stonemasons would be forced to come there to work.

St. Petersburg remained the capital of Russia for over 200 years, until 1917 when the capital was moved to Moscow following the Russian Revolution of 1917. The name of the city was changed to Petrograd in 1914, and later became Leningrad in 1924. In 1991 the name was changed back to St. Petersburg.

Today St. Petersburg is the second-largest city in Russia, and Russia's most important port on the Baltic. It has a population of over 4 and half million people, and a geographic area of 1439 square kilometers, making it the second largest European city in terms of geographic area, with a population of over a million people.

Cellophane Tape Patented, 1930

In 1924, Richard Gurley Drew was a young man working for the 3m company in St. Paul, Minnesota. At that time, 3M's only product was sandpaper. One of Drew's duties was to deliver samples of their new "Wetordry" line to auto shops, where it was tested. Drew liked to watch the men do the new "two-tone" paint jobs that were so popular in the 1920's, and he was interested to learn that it was difficult for them to manage the areas where the two colors met. The tapes they had been using to mark the edges were too adhesive, and caused the underlying paint to come off with the tape.

Drew's response was to invent the first masking tape. It was two inches wide, tan-colored, and had strips of a light adhesive along each edge. The painters didn't like it much; it just wasn't adhesive enough. One of them told Drew, "Take this tape back to those Scotch bosses of yours and tell them to put more adhesive on it!"

By "Scotch" the man meant to indicate that they were cheap, but the ethnic slur "stuck", you might say. Both the masking tape, and Drew's next invention, cellophane tape, became known as "Scotch tape."

In 1930 Drew came up with the world's first transparent cellophane tape. It was intended as a way for bakers and grocers to seal packages, but this was the time of the Great Depression, and Americans found countless ways to use it to repair household items, rather than replacing them.

Today about five and half million miles of Scotch Transparent Tape are made each year -- about enough to circle the world 235 times. You probably know countless ways to use the tape, but there are some really unusual ones out there. It's been used as an anti-corrosive covering for the Goodyear Blimp, to repair cracked, fertilized eggs (which subsequently hatched), and to strap a flashlight to the under side of a gun barrel. It's also used in graphene research -- it's the ideal base to form the monolayers of graphite powder. And you know that light that's generated when you pull the tape apart quickly? It's been demonstrated that that light can actually produce x-rays -- enough to leave an image on photographic paper, at any rate.

May 26, 2015

It Happened on May 27th

Alse Young Hanged for Witchcraft, 1647

Alse Young is believed to be the first person executed for witchcraft in the American colonies. The records of her trial are exceedingly sketchy, consisting of two separate entries in two journals. John Winthrop, the governor of Massachusetts, made an entry in his journal that day, "One [blank] of Windsor arraigned and executed at Hartford for a witch." He left a blank for the name; presumably either he didn't know or couldn't remember it. The other entry was by the second town clerk of Windsor, Matthew Grant, "May 26, 47. Alse Young was hanged."

There is no other record of the execution, and, until the two entries were put together some 200 years later, the identity of the hanged "witch" was not known. We don't know why she was accused. There seems to have been some kind of outbreak of disease early in 1647, and that may have been a factor. It has also been suggested that Alse's real "crime" was that she hadn't produced a male heir, making her eligible to inherit her husband's property -- a failure she shared with Mary Johnson, Margaret Jones, Joan Carrington, and Mary Parsons, all of whom were executed for witchcraft in the late 1640's and early 1650's.

Whatever the reason, Alse was hung in Hartford, Connecticut in 1647, 45 years before the Salem Witch Trials took place. Shortly thereafter, Alse's husband and daughter unsurprisingly moved out of the area.

It is interesting to note that Alse's daughter, Alice Young Beaumon, was also accused of witchcraft in Springfield, Massachusetts, some 30 years later. Alice Beaumon, however, escaped her mother's ultimate fate.

Pauline Parker Born, 1938

Pauline Parker was a 16-year old girl living in New Zealand in 1954. Like most 16-year-olds, she had a best friend, Juliet Hulme, also 16. Their friendship was a little unusual, though, bordering on the obsessive. They wrote adventure novels together, which they hoped to sell in Hollywood for a series of films. They invented their own religion, complete with saints and its own code of morality. They talked about the "Fourth World," a sort of spiritual Nirvana that they were able to enter occasionally. Their parents were concerned.

At about this time, Juliet discovered that her mother was having an affair, and that her parents were separating and planning a divorce. Mr. Hulme was planning on relocating to South Africa. The parents thought that this would provide a fine opportunity to separate the girls, whom they thought were becoming a little too close. They were concerned primarily about the possibility of homosexual tendencies, which at the time were considered to be a type of mental illness.

The plan was for Juliet to accompany her father to South Africa, leaving Pauline behind. Both girls wanted Pauline to go with Juliet when she left New Zealand, but Pauline's mother was determined that her daughter would not go with her friend. The girls had a solution: they would murder Mrs. Parker.

The girls lured Mrs. Parker to a remote area in Victoria Park. Juliet dropped an ornamental stone and Mrs. Parker bent over to pick it up. Pauline then hit her mother on the head with a brick wrapped in a stocking. The girls had imagined that the act would kill her instantly, but it took 45 frenzied blows to kill the woman. The girls then ran back to the tea shop where they had just dined with Mrs. Parker, and told the owners that Pauline's mother had fallen and hit her head. The condition of the body, as well as the discovery of the murder weapon, quickly disproved their story.

The girls were found guilty on August 30, 1954. Each of them spent five years in prison and were then released, on the condition that they never see each other again. Pauline Parker moved to England, where she opened a children's riding school and converted to Roman Catholicism. Juliet Hulme joined the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, and eventually settled in Scotland. She now writes historical detective novels under the name of Anne Perry.

Death of Kathleen Winsor, 2003

At the age of 17, Kathleen Winsor, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, married a fellow student, Robert Herwig. Herwig was an All-American football player, and was writing an honors thesis paper of Charles II. One day, out of boredom, Kathleen read one of his books.

The subject fascinated Winsor and she eventually read 356 books on the subject. She then started writing her novel.

Her fifth draft of Forever Amber was accepted for publication by Macmillan, the same firm that had made a best-seller out of Gone with the Wind. They quickly edited Amber down to 972 pages -- one-fifth of its original length.

Forever Amber is set during the Restoration Period in England, and Winsor was greatly influenced by her reading, especially the vivid descriptions of the plague and the London Fire written by Daniel Defoe and Samuel Pepys. The book is best known, however, for its rollicking sex scenes.

Fourteen states banned the book under pornographic guidelines. The attorney general of Massachusetts (the first state to ban it) cited 70 depictions of sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and "10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men." Winsor herself said, however, that her book wasn't particularly graphic. "I only wrote two sexy passages, and my publishers took both of them out. They put in ellipses instead. In those days, you know, you could solve anything with an ellipsis."

Naturally, all the adverse publicity made the book an immediate best-seller. It sold over 100,000 copies in the first week of its release, and eventually over three million copies. Forever Amber became the best-selling book of the 1940's.

May 25, 2015

It Happened on May 25th

Towel Day

Don't Panic.
©Beny Shlevich/Wikimedia Commons 
Today is Towel Day. Fans of Douglas Adams's fantastic "trilogy" (of five books), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, will understand the reference. For the rest of you, a word of explanation may be in order.

Hitchhiker follows the adventures of the hapless Englishman, Arthur Dent, and his alien companion, Ford Prefect, as they stumble through the universe. Ford is in a possession of a copy of a travel guide, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which, to Arthur's dismay, has only a two-word entry for the planet earth: "Mostly Harmless." (On the other hand, it does have the words "DON'T PANIC" written on the cover in "large, friendly letters.")

One of the most valuable pieces of advice that Arthur picks up is that, when traveling through known and unknown worlds, the most essential piece of equipment you can have on your person is a towel. There are two reasons for this. First, the towel has almost unlimited practical value -- it can be used for warmth, as a sail, as a weapon, as a distress signal, and even, occasionally, to dry oneself off. It can also be used for defense against the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, "such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you."

RIP Douglas Adams.
©Hughes Photography/Wikimedia Commons 
The other, and more important, reason is that if you have a towel on hand, you can acquire practically anything else you may need. In Adams's own words:

"For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

Towel Day was first observed on May 25, 2000, two weeks after Douglas Adams's death. It is celebrated all over the world. Those wishing to donate to a charity in honor of the event are encouraged to contribute to two of Adams's favorite causes, Save the Rhino and/or The Gorilla Organization.

Glorious Revolution, Ankh-Morpork

Terry Pratchett.
©Luigi Novi/Wikimedia Commons 
Meanwhile, for Terry Pratchett fans, today is also the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. The story is told in Night Watch, the 29th novel in Pratchett's Discworld series. Night Watch takes place 30 years after the events, and also concurrently, since the story involves time travel.

The Glorious Revolution ended the reign of the Homicidal Lord Winder, replacing him with the merely Mad (or Psychoneurotic) Lord Snapcase. The Revolution is conducted by members of the Treacle Mine Watch House (with the help of a few enthusiastic young civilians) and led by Sergeant John Keel. Killed in the struggle (or subsequently by treachery, in the alternate time-line) were Ankh-Morpork heroes John Keel, Cecil Clapman, Horace Nancyball, Billy Wiglet, Dai Dickins, Ned Coates, and -- temporarily -- Reg Shoe.

Actually, it might be more correct to state that the reign of Lord Winder ended concurrently with the Revolution. The nobility had already arranged for the succession of Lord Snapcase behind the scenes, making the Revolution superfluous.

Every year the date was commemorated by the wearing of the lilac among the surviving heroes of the Revolution: Sam Vimes, Fred Colon, Nobby Nobs, Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler, and Havelock Veterinari, the current Patrician of Ankh-Morpork. The date is not observed in the general population, since it is one of those events that everyone would rather pretend had never happened.

Pratchett died from Alzheimer's on March 12, 2015. The following account was posted on Pratchett's Twitter account by his assistant, Rob Wilkins:


Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night. 

The End.


Universal Day of the Jedi

Today also celebrates the release of the first of the series, Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope, on May 25, 1977. May 25th is not actually "Star Wars Day," however. That honor is claimed by May 4th -- as in "May the Fourth be with you."

Of course, in 1977, it wasn't called by the full title. It was just Star Wars. And it wasn't expected to be much of a success. It had originally been scheduled for release the preceding December, but the special effects had taken longer than expected. The studio execs were very worried about the May release date. They were concerned because Star Wars was going to have to compete with Smokey and the Bandit.

When it came time to distribute the movie, there were fewer than 40 theaters that wanted to book it. 20th Century Fox told them that if they didn't screen Star Wars, they wouldn't be allowed to show The Other Side of Midnight, which was expected to be a blockbuster. As I'm sure you realize, Star Wars ended up being one of the all-time greatest box office hits. It was the first film to gross over $300 million, and it's one of the 30 highest-grossing movies ever, without adjusting for inflation.

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.

May 23, 2015

It Happened on May 23rd

The Defenestration of Prague, 1618

17th Century woodcut depicting the defenestration
This item caught my attention for a number of reasons. To start with, quite honestly, "defenestration" is one of those words that I think I know the meaning of, but I never can quite remember what it is. I had to follow up on the topic to job my memory.

As it turns out, defenestration is the act of throwing someone out a window. It comes from the Latin: de, out of, with a downward motion implied, and fenestra, window. It's really quite literal. There is also a secondary meaning of a swift dismissal or expulsion, as from office or a political position. If you've been reading my blog on a regular basis, you probably know me well enough to know that I wouldn't be writing this if the action in Prague was a metaphorical type of defenestration.

The second thing that caught my attention is that the 1618 Defenestration is actually the Second Defenestration of Prague. You've just gotta love a city that makes a habit out of throwing people out of windows.

Jan Hus
So, for a bit of background. The First Defenestration of Prague took place in 1419. It was all part of the Protestant-Catholic altercations that were going on all over Europe in those days. One of the most prominent leaders of the Reformation in Bohemia was Jan Hus, Rector at Prague University. He maintained that Jesus Christ, not the Pope, was the head of the Christian Church, and he denounced the lifestyle of the priests. He argued that the Church should be stripped of its property and its political power. He was tried for heresy and burned at the stake, becoming a martyr for the Protestant cause.

Hus's followers were known as the Hussites. On July 30, 1419, a procession led by the priest Jan Zelivsky made its way along the streets of Prague to the Town Hall. Along the way, someone threw a stone at Zelivsky from a window of the Town Hall. This enraged the crowd and the Hussites stormed the building. They threw the judge, the burgermeister, and 13 members of the town council out the window. Those who were not killed in the fall were killed by the mob.

King Wenceslaus
King Wenceslaus died of an apparent heart attack soon after. Some say it was in shock at hearing of the incident, but since he was out hunting at the time of his heart attack, he was apparently coping with his shock quite well. The First Defenestration was the beginning of action and the end of talk in Bohemia. The Hussite Wars began soon afterward and lasted until 1436.

This brings us to the Second Defenestration of Prague. It had been nearly 200 years since the First Defenestration. At this time, the region was still operating under the rules established by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. When the Peace was established, there were 255 German states in the Holy Roman Empire. The ruler of each state was allowed to establish the religion of his people (Lutheranism or Catholicism.) As you can imagine, tempers were short.

In 1617, some Catholic officials had ordered a stop to the building of some Protestant churches. The Catholics claimed the land belonged to them. The Lutherans claimed it belonged to the King, who could do with it as he chose. They also feared that it was just the beginning of acts by the Holy Roman Emperor against the Protestants.

On May 23, 1618, a mob of Protestants stormed Prague Castle, where a meeting of the four Regents was taking place. According to several sources, the mob gained admittance by paying bribes, "in the usual manner." [Which brings me to the third reason I love this story: not only does Prague have such a rich history of defenestrations that it has to number them, but there's apparently a protocol to the process.] Two of the Regents were excused, but the other two, Count Vilem Slavata and Count Jarolslaw Martinitz, were at the mercy of the crowd.

Count Slavata: didn't go quietly
The two Regents were flung from the third story window, a distance of about 50 feet. Martinitz went first, screaming "Jesu Maria! Help!" as he fell. Slavata held on longer, also calling on the Blessed Virgin, and clinging with his fingers to the sill. He had to be knocked unconscious before he would let go. The crowd then turned on Philip Fabricius, secretary to the Regents. As they threw him out the window one of the perpetrators mocked, "We will see if your Mary can help you."

Apparently, she did. According to witnesses -- Catholic, of course -- a band of angels intercepted them and bore them safely to the ground. More pragmatic viewers said that they had landed on a pile of manure that had been left behind by gardeners. The men scurried away to safety. Later, Fabricius, the secretary, was made a noble by the Emperor: Baron von Hohenfall, or "Baron of Highfall."

The Second Defenestration was the beginning of the Bohemian Revolt, which in turn led to the Thirty Years War. Initially, it was a war for religious freedom, but quickly escalated into a struggle for power among most of the European powers. By the time it was finished, most of the major powers had been bankrupted, and the population and land of the German states suffered a great deal.

May 22, 2015

It Happened on May 22nd

Congressman Brooks Beats Senator Sumner, 1856

Tempers ran hot in the years preceding the Civil War, and no issue raised more wrath than the subject of slavery. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 had been designed to ease tensions between the North and South by allowing the residents of the newly created territories of Kansas and Nebraska to determine for themselves whether or not they would allow slavery. It had almost the opposite effect: opponents of the Act regarded it as an unnecessary concession to the South.

Senator Sumner
On May 19, 1856, Charles Sumner, a Senator from Massachusetts, denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act in a speech entitled "Crime Against Kansas." The speech took three hours and ran over into the next day's business. He particularly attacked the authors of the bill, Senators Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He called Douglas a noise-some, squat, and nameless animal...not a proper model for an American Senator." Douglas, who was present at the time, remarked to a colleague, "This damn fool is going to get himself shot by some other damn fool."

Butler was not present at the session, and Sumner devoted even more attention to him. He said that Butler had "chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him...I mean the harlot, Slavery." He also mocked the man personally: "With incoherent phrases discharged the loose expectoration of his speech." Butler had recently suffered a stroke.

Congressman Brooks
Butler may not have been present for the speech, but his relative, Preston Brooks, a Congressman from South Carolina, was. He was furious. His first impulse was to challenge him to a duel, but, after consulting with a colleague about duel etiquette, decided that it would be inappropriate. After all, a duel may only be fought between social equals, and Brooks felt that Sumner had amply demonstrated his lower social class.

On the afternoon of May 22nd, Brooks found Sumner sitting alone in the almost deserted Senate Chamber, busily mailing out copies of his Senate speech. Brooks was accompanied by Representatives Laurence M. Keitt (Brooks's expert on dueling etiquette) and Henry A. Edmundson. Brooks attacked him with his cane, a heavy item made of gutta-percha with a gold head. The heavy desk was bolted to the floor, and Sumner could not escape at first, but finally managed to free himself. Several other Senators attempted to intervene, but Keitt held them off with a pistol. Sumner staggered away from Brooks, blinded by his own blood, and collapsed into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat him until his cane broke, and then left.

The walking cane is now in the Old State House Museum, Boston.
Sumner was reelected the following November, but was unable to attend Senate sessions for the next three years. He suffered from severe headaches, nightmares, and probably from post-traumatic stress disorder. His detractors accused him of cowardice for not returning, but his (Northern) supporters felt that his empty chair spoke eloquently to the brutality of the South.

A motion to expel Brooks from the House failed, but Brooks resigned. He was immediately reelected. Supporters from all over the South sent him new canes to replace the one that had broken.

Northerners, of course, condemned Brooks's actions. One particularly vehement critic was Representative Anson Burlingame of Massachusetts. He, too, delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate, denouncing Brooks as "the vilest sort of coward." Evidently Burlingame's social standing met Brooks's requirements, for Brooks challenged Burlingame to a duel. Burlingame, unexpectedly for Brooks, enthusiastically accepted. As the challenged party, Burlingame had the choice of weapons and location. He chose rifles, being known as an excellent marksman. Since duels were illegal in the United States, he chose a location on the Canadian side of the border at Niagara Falls. Brooks didn't show up for the duel, saying that he would be placing himself in danger by crossing the "hostile country" of the Northern states.

Fire at L'Innovation Department Store, 1967

The L'Innovation Department Store, in Brussels, Belgium, was an 1897 structure, five stories tall, with an atrium in the center. The atrium was open to all five stories and had a skylight at the top. The floors and walls were all made of wood. There were no fire alarms or sprinklers in the store.

Beginning on May 5th, the store had been advertising a special exhibit of American-made merchandise -- blue jeans, barbeque equipment, and paper dolls were the most prominent items advertised. American flags were used throughout the store as decoration. The exhibit had attracted the attention of a group called "Action for Peace and Independence of Peoples." The group, a pro-China faction, had been demonstrating and distributing pamphlets outside the store for several days. As part of their demonstration, they sometimes set off fireworks.

L'Innovation soon after it opened in 1901.
No one knows exactly what started the fire. Some initially believed that the demonstrators were responsible. Others claimed that it started as a kitchen fire on the fourth-floor restaurant. To add to the confusion, at least one person claimed that someone yelled, "I'm giving my life for Viet Nam!" right after the fire started.

It is now believed that it was probably an electrical fire at the beginning. At some point, butane canisters in the store's camping department caught fire and exploded. The flags displayed throughout the floor also helped spread the fire. The atrium acted as a chimney, providing a steady supply of oxygen to the burning structure. The entire store was engulfed in less than ten minutes.

The fire took place at 1:30 pm, when the store was swamped with lunch-hour shoppers. Some estimate that 1,000 people were in the store; some estimates go as high as 2,500. The streets were also congested, making it difficult for fire engines to get through. The main stairway was filled with smoke, so most shoppers tried to get to the windows, causing panic and stampeding. A few managed to get out the windows and escape over the roofs of neighboring buildings, but many jumped to their deaths. The final death toll was 322, making it one of the worst 20th century disasters.