June 30, 2015

It Happened on June 30th

The Tunguska Event, 1908

Location of Tunguska Event.   © Bobby D. Bryant/Wikimedia Commons
Imagine yourself in Siberia on June 30, 1908. You sit on the porch outside a trading post, eating your breakfast, and looking at the view to the north. It's a little after seven o'clock in the morning. Suddenly, the sky splits open and a wall of fire appears in the split. The split opens, the fire spreads. The whole northern sky appears to be on fire.

You feel like you're on fire, too. Your shirt is so hot that you go to tear it off, fearing it will ignite. But then, just as suddenly, the sky snaps shut. You hear a loud boom as you're thrown from your chair and land a few yards away. Briefly, you black out, and when you regain consciousness, you feel the earth shaking, and a continuous barrage of noise, as though rocks are falling or cannons are being fired, repeatedly.

When the noise ends, you look around, gingerly. You see a wide swath has been cut through the grass between the houses, as though it was burned when the hot air rushed through. Some of your crops have been damaged. The iron lock on your barn snapped. Many of the windows have shattered.

The Event

This is exactly what happened to S. Semenov on the day of the Tunguska Event. He reported it, in 1921, to an expedition led by Leonid Kulik. Mr. Semenov was about 25 miles away from the center of the blast.

Others reported similar stories. The noise was intense. The light was blinding. The heat was incredible, and swept over them in intense winds coming from the north.

The Kulik Expedition

Leonid Kulik
You may be wondering why the first major expedition to investigate the event took place 13 years after the explosion. It's possible, or course, that it wasn't the first expedition. What we do know, however, is that there is no documentation of any investigation before Kulik's. Remember, though, that Russia underwent some turbulent times in those years. The Second World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil war all took place during that era. That's a lot of turmoil -- and a lot of chances to lose paperwork.

Leonid Kulik got the Soviet government to fund his expedition, based partly on the chance that there would be a lot of meteoric iron that could contribute to the economy. It wasn't easy to get there. Local guides would only go so far -- they were afraid of the site. When Kulik finally arrived at the site, he was astounded to find, not only no meteor, but not even a crater. Instead, the area around the epicenter was covered with blasted trees, devoid of branches and standing straight up. The area extended about five miles in diameter.

Farther away than that, the trees were still burned, but had fallen, away from the center. The entire area comprised a rough "butterfly" shape, with a wingspan of 43 miles and a body length of 34 miles. The whole area covered about 830 square miles.

Kulik made multiple expeditions to the area over the next decade, and even took aerial photographs. The aerial photographs were burned in 1975 by the Chairman of the Committee on Meteorites. He claimed that they created a fire hazard, but a more likely explanation is that the scientists disliked anything that presented an unexplainable phenomenon. After all, they might be held responsible for not explaining it.

What Caused It?

Photograph from the Kulik Expedition, May 1929.
What is generally believed today is that the event was caused by a meteoroid that exploded about five miles above the earth's surface. It is classified as an impact, even though it didn't touch the earth's surface except as debris. The explosion created was most likely in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 megatons. That's about the same as the United States' hydrogen bomb, Castle Bravo, that was tested on the Bikini Atoll in 1954, or about 1,000 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It's also about one-third the power of the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, detonated on Novaya Zemlya archipelago in 1961.

As far as we know, it's the largest meteor impact that's taken place on land in recorded history. Of course, if a similar impact had taken place over certain ocean regions, we might not have known about it.

It's not unusual for meteoroids to enter the Earth's atmosphere and explode. In fact, it happens every day. Larger explosions are more rare, but even so, the U. S. Air Force estimates that meteoroids as large as 30 feet in diameter -- creating an explosion about equivalent to the bomb dropped on Nagasaki -- explode in the upper atmosphere at least once a year. Explosions like Tunguska take place perhaps every 300 years.

Alternate Theories

Kulik Expedition photograph, 1927.
Of course, there are other theories as to what caused the event. The most common -- and most rational -- is that it was a comet, not a meteoroid. (The chief difference is that a comet is made largely out of ice.) It is also speculation that it could have been a piece of a larger comet, such as Comet 2005NB56, which bounced off the Earth's atmosphere and then back into space. If that is the case, it's due to return in 2045.

Another theory surmises that it could have been a comet containing a large pocket of deuterium, which had a nuclear fusion reaction and exploded, creating a natural H-bomb. It's also been posited that the event could have been caused by a black hole, a chunk of antimatter, or an explosion of natural gas within the Earth's crust.

It's even been suggested that the explosion could have been caused by Nikola Tesla, experimenting with the Wardenclyffe Tower, an early telecommunications project. And of course, there are always the aliens. The explosion could have been a spaceship accident, or a weapon going off, either as a threat, or to save us from a natural disaster.

June 29, 2015

It Happened on June 29th

"LIttle Eva" Born, 1943

"Little" Eva Boyd, 1962
If you were a teenager in the 1960's, you probably remember a song called The Loco-Motion that was a big hit around 1962. The song was sung by a young African-American girl named Eva Boyd. Her stage name was "Little Eva."

Boyd was born on June 29, 1943 in Belhaven, North Carolina. She was the 10th in a family of 13 children. Her family was fairly religious; in fact, her grandfather was a church minister. Eva loved to sing from an early age. She and four of her siblings even had their own gospel group for awhile.

When Eva was 16, she spent a summer with her older brother, Jimmy, and his wife, who lived in Coney Island, New York. She loved the city life. A few months later, she went back home and back to school, but she couldn't get New York out of her mind. Pretty soon Eva quit school and went back to New York, this time planning to stay.

Jimmy's wife was a friend of Earl-Jean McCrea, one of The Cookies, a girl band of the era. The Cookies were busy cutting demo records for music publisher Don Kirschner, and were on the outlook for another girl singer. Kirschner was also professionally associated with the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The Goffins were looking for a babysitter.

Eva applied for both jobs. She tried out for the singing group by singing Will You Love Me Tomorrow, a song that had reached #1 in a rendition by The Shirelles. The song had been written by King and Goffin -- it was their "breakout hit."

Eva got the babysitting job, and soon was taking care of little Louise Goffin. Soon Louise was joined by another Goffin baby, Sherry. Eva was making $35 a week in addition to her room and board.

The Goffins had written a new song, a dance number, called The Loco-Motion, and had their babysitter record a demo of it. When Kirschner heard the demo, he was impressed. He wanted to release it just the way it was.

Eva Boyd was soon restyled "Little Eva." She was less than five feet tall. The studio also knocked two years off her age to make her more marketable. The song was released in June, and by the end of the month it was in the Top 100. By August it was #1, replacing Neil Sedaka's Breaking Up is Hard to Do. To celebrate, Eva married her long-time boyfriend, James Harris.

Little Eva on Shindig!  in March, 1965

Soon Little Eva was appearing on American Bandstand, lip-synching the song and demonstrating the Locomotion dance moves, which she had created herself. She was soon producing more records, and being paid a salary of $50 a week -- $15 more than she earned as a babysitter. Her little sister, Idalia, came to New York to take over the babysitting job. Idalia did a little work on the backup vocals, too.

Eva toured and made records throughout the 60's, but never duplicated her initial success. Some of her other singles were Keep Your Hands Off My Baby, Some Kinda Wonderful, Let's Turkey Trot, and a remake of Swinging On a Star. She never owned the rights to any of her recordings.

In 1971, Eva had had enough of the music business, and returned to Belhaven. Her mother had recently died, and Eva was estranged from her husband and had three young children to support. She worked menial jobs when she could and collected welfare. In the 1990's she briefly returned to music, releasing a gospel album and doing some performances on the "oldies" circuit. She died of cervical cancer in 2003 at the age of 59.

June 28, 2015

It Happened on June 28th

Ned Kelly Captured, 1880

Ned Kelly, 1880
The Kelly family had been in trouble with the law since long before Ned was born. His father, John "Red" Kelly, came from Ireland. He was transported to Tasmania in 1843, apparently for the theft of two pigs. It's difficult to say for certain what his offense was -- the court records were destroyed in Ireland's Civil War in the 1920's.

A Family Made for Trouble

After his release from prison, Red Kelly moved to Victoria, Australia, where he found work on a farm and married the farmer's daughter, Ellen. Red and Ellen had seven children who survived infancy. Ned was the oldest son.

The whole Kelly family seemed to be constantly in trouble of some kind or another. Before Ned was proclaimed an outlaw, there were eighteen arrests against members of his immediate family. Only about half of them ended in conviction, and it's difficult to say now whether or not they were legitimate arrests or whether the Kelly family was a victim of police harassment. It certainly wasn't unknown for that to happen to Irish-Australians in the mid-19th century.

He kept the green sash with him all his life.
© bronzebrew/Wikimedia Commons
As a young boy, Ned did have at least one heroic moment. He saved the life of another boy, Richard Shelton, from drowning. The family gave Ned a green sash as a present showing their appreciation. Ned kept it his whole life. In fact, he was found to be wearing it under his armor during his final showdown.

Ned's Early Crimes

When he was 14, Ned had a run-in with a Chinese farmer named Ah Fook. Ah Fook claimed that the boy had robbed him. Ned's story was that Ah Fook had gotten into an altercation with Ned's sister, Annie. Whatever the truth was, Ned was arrested and spent ten days in jail before the charges were dismissed. The authorities called him a "juvenile bushranger."

Kelly at 15.
Bushrangers were criminals hiding out in the bush in colonial Australia. They had the skills necessary to live out in the wild, and supported their lifestyle with the occasional coach or bank robbery. Think of them as the equivalent of our Old West outlaws.

The year after the Ah Fook incident found Ned arrested again. This time he was accused of being an accomplice of a well-know bushranger, Harry Power. Ned was held for a month, and then the charges were dismissed. Again, this could have been an example of the police harassment of his family. Or, it could be that Ned's family intimidated the witnesses.

He served time in 1870 for assaulting a hawker, and for delivering the hawker's wife a package containing a calf's testicles -- three months for each charge. It seemed to be a case of Ned getting mixed up in somebody else's argument. And then, as soon as he got out, he got tangled up in a mess involving a visitor, and a horse that ran away and was recaptured and turned out to be stolen. He got three years for that one.

In 1877, Ned was arrested for public drunkenness. He escaped, then turned himself in, and received only a fine. During the scuffle, however, Constable Lonigan grabbed him by the testicles and gave them a hard squeeze, an act that Ned never forgot. "If I ever shoot a man, Lonigan, it'll be you," Ned said.

The Fitzpatrick Affair

Sister Kate.
There was another Constable, Alexander Fitzpatrick, who made trouble for Ned in those days, too. In 1878 he went to the authorities with a bandaged wrist, claiming that he'd been attacked by a group including Ned, his brother Dan, his mother, and sundry other friends and relatives of the Kellys. All of them except Mrs. Kelly had been armed with revolvers. The Kellys claimed that he had come to the Kelly's home to question Dan about a cattle duffing incident. (Cattle duffing was the act of removing or altering a cattle brand.) While there, he had made a pass at Dan and Ned's sister and Mrs. Kelly had clobbered him with a coal shovel. The men had merely knocked him to the floor -- no guns.

No one knew where Ned and Dan were -- it isn't even clear that they were actually in the vicinity at the time of the alleged crime. Despite a doctor's testimony that Fitzpatrick had been drunk when he treated him, and his inability to confirm that the man had even been shot, the judge accepted Fitzpatrick's uncorroborated story. Mrs. Kelly and the two associates who were there for the trial were found guilty of attempted murder. The judge said that if Ned were there, he would "give him 15 years."

Shootout at Stringybark

Lonigan Kennedy, and Scanlon -- all killed by the Kelly Gang.
Ned and Dan, of course, heard about the incident and figured out that they'd better not come home anytime soon. They hid out in the bush, and were soon joined by their friends, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart.

Out looking for the Kellys were four men: Sergeant Kennedy, and Constables McIntyre, Scanlon, and Lonigan. Yes, the same Lonigan who had had Ned Kelly in his iron grip. They set up a camp at Stringybark Creek, then split up into two pairs. Kennedy and Scanlon went out to look for the Kellys, and McIntyre and Lonigan remained in camp.

Ned and Dan discovered them there, and decided their chances were better with two than with more. They had a plan to force them to surrender, and then take their guns and horses. McIntyre surrendered, but Lonigan tried to draw. Ned shot him dead. Now the boys were guilty of murder.

When Kennedy and Scanlon returned, they tried to get them to surrender, too. Neither did. They were both killed, as well.

The outrageous nature of these killings led to the Felons Apprehension Act which made the boys outlaws, and authorized anyone to shoot them on sight. No need for an arrest or a trial.

Euroa and Jerilderie

Declared outlaws.
Next, Ned and Dan turned to bank robbery. They held up the National Bank at Euroa on December 10, 1878. They took hostages, collected all the money they could find, and then gave a riding exhibition for their hostages. After supper, they released the hostages, telling them not to notify anyone for another three hours. They got away with about £2,260 -- about $100,000 in today's money. No one was hurt or killed.

In retaliation, police arrested all of the Kellys' known family, associates, and sympathizers. They held them for three months without charging them with any crime. The result of this abuse of authority was that the Kelly boys got even more support from the public.

In Jerilderie, the following February, the boys robbed another bank. This time, they first locked up the police officers and dressed in their uniforms. After mingling with the townspeople and buying them drinks, they removed about £2,414 from the bank. They also burned all the mortgage deeds that the bank held on local properties. It's easy to understand why the Kellys were quickly becoming folk heroes.

At about the same time as the Jerilderie heist, Ned Kelly wrote a lengthy letter (over 7,000 words), giving his account of his life and actions. He also dealt with the treatment of the Irish Catholics by the police and civilians. He intended the letter for publication, but it didn't make it into the press until 1930, when it was rediscovered and published by the Melbourne Herald.

The End of Ned Kelly

Kelly's Last Stand. He couldn't really manage the gun.
The Felons Apprehension Act expired on June 26, 1880. Ned and Dan were still wanted for the "attempted murder" of Fitzpatrick, but Hart and Byrne were now free men. The men discovered, however, that Byrne's best friend, Aaron Sherritt, was a police informer, and Hart and Byrne went to his house and killed him. They were all wanted men again.

The Kelly gang next went to Glenrowan to take the bank there. The date was June 28, 1880. They held about 70 hostages, and ordered the railway tracks pulled up, since they were aware that the police were on their way to arrest them. They let one of the hostages go, however -- Thomas Curnow, the schoolmaster. Just why they released him we don't know, but it proved to be a big mistake. He flagged down the train, and prevented the train from being derailed. The inn where the men were holed up was soon under siege.

Bizarrely, the Kelly gang had decided to fashion their own armor. Each man had a suit that weighed about 96 pounds, and protected their torso and arms but left their legs unprotected. All four men also had helmets. They believed themselves impervious to bullets while wearing their armor. It is considered very possible that alcohol may have had something to do with their decisions.

The men wore gray cotton coats over the armor. The police had been informed that the men had armor, but hadn't believed it, and were mystified as to why their bullets had so little effect. "There is no use firing at Ned Kelly," one of them said. "He can't be hurt."

Kelly's armor is now in the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne.
© Chensiyuan/Wikimedia Commons
In truth, Ned Kelly was hurt by the bullets. As he dismounted from his horse, a bolt in his armor jammed. As he attempted to free it, he was hit in the arm and the foot. The rest of the men, inside the inn, began to return fire. Ned then began walking toward the police, stiffly, and with a "lurching motion," according to their accounts. Because of the armor, he could only hold his rifle in one hand, away from his body, and fire randomly. The police kept firing at him, and eventually they hit his legs, repeatedly, which brought him to the ground.

Joe Byrne, the only member of the gang whose armor didn't include an apron in the front, was struck by a bullet in his femoral artery, and bled to death. Dan Kelly and Steve Hart were burned to death when the police set fire to the inn. Only Ned lived to stand trial.

Ned Kelly was tried for the murder of Constable Lonigan, found guilty, and sentenced to be death.
He was hanged on November 11, 1880 at Melbourne Gaol. In an effort to save him, over 30,000 people signed a petition asking that his life be spared.

June 27, 2015

It Happened on June 27th

Seven Sleepers Day

The Seven Sleepers
June 27th is celebrated as Siebenschläfertag, or "Seven Sleepers Day", in Germany. According to weather lore, whatever the weather is like on this day will determine (or predict) the weather for the next seven weeks.

I had never heard of this holiday before, and as I read about the day, several sources made a statement that rather startled me. Seven Sleepers Day does not take its name, "as is commonly thought" from the edible dormouse, but rather from the legend of the Seven Sleepers.

At this point, my mind didn't quite know where to turn. Several parts of my brain were vying for attention. One part -- the more sedate, logical part, I'd like to think -- was eager to find out about the legend of the Seven Sleepers. Another part was wondering just who these people were -- the ones who "commonly thought" that the name of the day was derived from the edible dormouse. A third section seemed to be screaming, "Edible dormouse? Edible dormouse?!!"

The Edible Dormouse

Glis glis: delicious with honey and poppy seeds.
There is, in fact, a variety of dormouse known as the edible dormouse, or fat dormouse. Its Latin name is Glis glis, and, like most dormouse species, it's native to Europe. The word dormouse comes from the Anglo-Saxon dormeus, meaning "sleepy one" -- a perfectly logical name, considering that the dormouse hibernates a lot. Our friend Glis glis hibernates from October to May, which is a lot of sleep, even for a dormouse. Later on, dormeus got altered to dormouse, which was also logical, since the dormouse is a small rodent, similar to a mouse.

As for the edible part, the ancient Romans liked to eat them, and even raised them especially for that purpose. They had special terra cotta containers that they kept them in, called gliraria, sort of like an early version of the hamster cage. Edible dormice could be eaten either as an appetizer, or as a dessert, dipped in honey and poppy seeds.

Lionel Rothschild let the dormice escape.
The edible dormouse is native to much of Europe, but not to England, although, curiously enough, about 10,000 Glis glis live there now, all in a 200 square mile area around Tring, in Hertfordshire. It seems that Lionel Walter Rothschild, of the Rothschild financial dynasty, had a private zoological collection. The dormice escaped, and ... Well, you know what rodents do best.

In Germany, the edible dormouse is known as Siebenschläfer, which means something like "seven sleeper" probably because it hibernates for seven months of the year. The day we're celebrating today is called Siebenschläfertag, Seven Sleepers Day, for reasons altogether unrelated to the dormouse. We'll get to that story next.

The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus

The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus were a group of Christian youths who lived neared Ephesus somewhere around the year 250 AD. The Roman Emperor Decius was trying to eliminate Christianity from his domain at the time, and the young men were given their choice of recanting their beliefs, or of being executed. They went to a cave to pray and fell asleep.

The Seven Sleepers in the cave.
When they awoke, they realized they were hungry, and sent one of their number into the village to buy food, warning him to be careful to elude capture. When he got there, he was amazed -- there were buildings there with crosses on them, prominently displayed. The townspeople were equally dumbfounded when the young man attempted to pay for his purchases with coins that were 200 years old. The Christians told their story to the local bishop and then died, praising God for the miracle.

Various versions of the story have the men sleeping for anywhere from 150 to 250 years. There is also a version in which they were sealed into the cave by the Emperor, and only awoke when a farmer unsealed the cave to use as a pen for his cattle.

The story appears to have originated in Ephesus, and then to have spread outwards. Many pilgrims made the pilgrimage to Ephesus. A church was built over a collection of graves in the area. During the Crusades some bones from the area were brought to Marseilles, and found a home at the church of Saint Victoire.

And Back to the Weather...

St. Swithun gets the credit in England.
I'm not sure exactly what the connection is between the Seven Sleepers and June 27, although I'm guessing that at one time it was a feast day. In any event, according to folk wisdom, whatever sort of weather occurs on this day will be pretty much the same sort of weather that will fall for the next seven weeks. There are various rhymes to help one remember:

Das wetter am Siebenschläfertag
Sieben wochen bleiben mag.

["The weather on Seven Sleepers Day, seven weeks will remain."]


Wie's wetter am Siebenschlafertag,
So der Juli werden mag.

["As the weather is on Seven Sleepers Day, so will it be in July."]
As you'll note, the saying actually rhymes in German.

The closest thing to Seven Sleepers Day that we have in the English language is probably Saint Swithun's Day, the 15th of July. We are told:

St. Swithun's Day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain.
St. Swithun's Day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mare.

As a prediction of weather, neither holiday is noticeably accurate.

June 26, 2015

It Happened on June 26th

Patrick Branwell Brontë Born, 1817

Self Portrait by Patrick Branwell Bronte
To the Brontë family, Branwell was probably considered the most talented of the lot. His father certainly thought so. Branwell was the fourth child and the only boy of the remarkable Brontë family. You are no doubt familiar with Branwell's more famous sisters: Charlotte (Jane Eyre, Villette), Emily (Wuthering Heights), and Anne (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Agnes Gray.)

The six Brontë children were the offspring of the Reverend Patrick and Maria Bronte. They grew up in a small parsonage in a remote village in Yorkshire and were very close to each other, creating a fantasy world together and filling it with characters and stories. The four oldest girls were sent to a charity boarding school for the daughters of poor clergymen. The two oldest came back ill, and died soon after their return. Maria was 11 and Elizabeth 10 when they died of tuberculosis. After that, the remaining girls were schooled at home by their aunt.

Branwell, on the other hand, was carefully educated at home by his father. He studied the classics (Greek and Roman literature), English literature, and European history. His father intended for him to be prepared to enter university.

Branwell's painting of his sisters: Anne, Emily, and
He also displayed a great interest and aptitude in art, and, at the age of 18, his father sent him to London to apply to the Royal Academy of Arts. Branwell went to London, all right, but he never quite got around to applying to the Royal Academy. He attempted to employ himself as a portrait painter for awhile, but he lacked the initiative to stick with it. The most famous of all Branwell's portraits it the one of his three sisters.  Branwell was originally in the portrait as well, but he painted himself out and painted in a pillar. As the years passed and the paint faded, his figure began to appear again, as a somewhat ghostly image.

In 1840, at the age of 23, he found employment as a tutor for a family of young boys, but was dismissed within six months. There was some scandal connected with the dismissal, and it was thought that he may have had a sexual affair with a servant there -- and perhaps even fathered a child.

Shortly after that he found employment with the Luddendenfoot railway station, but was dismissed after a shortage of 11 pounds was found in monies he was responsible for. He was not suspected of theft, however -- just incompetence.

This is not to imply, however, that Branwell was idle during much of his youth. He wrote as copiously as his sisters did. His surviving work comprises about 30 volumes of stories, journals, poetry, literary criticism, translations, and essays. It is estimated that this is only about 10% of his total output, however -- his heirs destroyed much of his writings because they believed them objectionable in terms of moral values or religious outlook.

His sister Anne found him his next job. Anne was employed as a governess at the time, and her employers, Reverend and Mrs. Robinson of Thorp Green, were looking for a tutor for their young son. Branwell took the job -- and soon was corresponding with his friends about the attractions of the young boy's mother. He was dismissed from that job suddenly, too. Apparently Branwell was caught in a compromising position with the somewhat older -- but still alluring -- Mrs. Robinson. (At any rate, he was told that his actions were "bad beyond expression" and he was forbidden to communicate with any member of the Robinson family ever again.)

Branwell's caricature of himself, summoned by Death
Branwell then returned home to the family parsonage, a broken man. He was depressed, in debt, alcoholic, and addicted to laudanum. His behavior became increasingly erratic and he sometimes spoke of suicide. He rallied, briefly, when the Reverend Robinson died -- he thought he could rekindle the relationship with Mrs. Robinson. The 43-year-old widow, however, wanted nothing further to do with the penniless young man.

Sadly, Branwell's drug and alcohol problems were masking another ailment. Branwell was ill with tuberculosis. By the time the family realized he was ill -- he collapsed outside the house -- and summoned a doctor, he was already in the terminal stages. Branwell Brontë died at the age of 31. His sister Charlotte remarked on his death, "I do not weep from a sense of bereavement ... but for the wreck of talent, the ruin of promise, the untimely dreary extinction of what might have been a burning and shining light."

Two of Branwell's remaining three sisters, Emily and Anne, would also die of tuberculosis before a year had passed.

June 25, 2015

It Happened on June 25th

Rose Cecil O'Neill Born, 1874

Rose Cecil O'Neill, circa 1907
She called them Kewpie Dolls, after Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love. They made their first appearance in 1909, as illustrations in the Ladies' Home Journal. After that, it wasn't long before they were manufactured as dolls, first in bisque, and later in celluloid. The hard plastic ones didn't come along until 1949.

Rose O'Neill was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on June 25, 1874. She was the second of eight children born to William and Alice O'Neill. Fortunately for Rose, she loved taking care of the younger children.

She also loved to draw, and her father encouraged her, providing her with plenty of art materials and not worrying about her getting educated in anything other than the arts. He also had romantic ideas about country life, and when Rose was three, he moved the family out of their comfortable middle-class existence to a sod house in Nebraska. He had an idea that the family could lead an idyllic country life, getting by on nothing but love and poetry.

In real life, this worked out to his traveling to the neighboring towns and attempting to sell books -- which the townspeople didn't need and weren't interested in. Rose's mother, "Meemie", tried to adapt to the country life too, but she had never cooked, sewn, or planted anything in her life. Pretty soon the family moved on to Omaha.

At the age of 14, Rose entered an art contest and won first prize. The judges were a little suspicious about the originality of her work, however, deeming it a pretty sophisticated topic for a 14-year-old -- Temptation Leading Down into an Abyss. They had her come in and demonstrate her talent before they would allow her to accept her prize, a five-dollar gold piece.

O'Neill illustration from Puck magazine, 1904.
"Ethel: He acts this way. He gazes at me tenderly, is buoyant
when I am near him, pines when I neglect him. Now, what
does that signify?  Her mother: That he's a mighty good actor,
Within a few years, Rose was selling her work for publications in Chicago and Denver. She was well on her way to her life's ambition, becoming a full-time illustrator.

When Rose was 18, her mother sold the family cow so that Rose could visit New York to find work. She found housing with the Sisters of St. Regis, who also accompanied her on sales calls. Rose was definitely successful, selling work to Colliers, Life, Harpers, and other well-known publications.

After about a year, Rose returned to her family, who had moved again, this time to a homestead in the Ozarks. She fell in love with the place immediately, and named it Bonniebrook.

When Rose finally returned to New York, she married her first husband, Gray Latham. Gray Latham made a habit of spending Rose's money just as soon as she made it, which distressed her greatly. She needed that money to send home to the family, who was depending on her as their main source of support. After five years they divorced, and Rose returned to Bonniebrook.

The Kewpies, like Rose, were suffragettes.
© chicks57/Wikimedia Commons
Back at Bonniebrook, Rose began receiving mysterious gifts and letters from an admirer. It turned out that the admirer was Harry Leon Wilson, a literary editor that she had worked with at Puck magazine. They wed in 1902, and both husband and wife spent several years writing, Rose producing her first (illustrated) novel, The Loves of Edwyn. The couple had multiple homes by this time -- in Bonniebrook, Cos Cob, Connecticut, Paris, and the Isle of Capri.

Rose's second marriage didn't go so well either. Harry became moody and easily irked by Rose's mannerisms, especially her penchant for speaking to him in baby talk. They also divorced, although they remained friendly throughout their lives.

1909 was a banner year for Rose O'Neill, as it was the year the Kewpies first appeared in the Christmas issue of the Ladies' Home Journal. Later, they would also appear in Good Housekeeping and the Woman's Home Companion, and would continue being published for the next 25 years. The Woman's Home Companion also featured the Kewpies as paper dolls, called Kewpie Kutouts. They were designed to have both a front and a back -- the first paper dolls ever designed this way.

Civil War Kewpies
© Colin McMillan / Wikimedia Commons
A whole chain of Kewpie merchandise became available starting in 1913 that would continue for decades. They were produced in Germany, in nine different sizes. Demand was so great that twenty-one factories were set up to produce the dolls. Rose O'Neill became a very wealthy woman.

Rose added an apartment in Greenwich Village and an estate in Westport, Connecticut to her collection of homes. Now, besides supporting her family, she was able to provide support for young artists that she took under her wing.

Rose O'Neill was a successful and sought-after artist until the 1930's, when photography began replacing illustrations in magazines. The Kewpie Doll business fell off a bit too, although it has never -- even today -- dried up entirely. Rose began to find her obligations too much for her, and began selling off some of her properties. She tried to replicate her Kewpie Doll success with a Buddha-like character called "Little Ho Ho," but he never caught on.

Rose O'Neill died in 1944 at the age of 69. She had created nearly 5500 drawings in her lifetime, in addition to her work as an oil and watercolor painter, sculptress, businesswoman, suffragette, poet, and novelist.

June 24, 2015

It Happened on June 24th

Outbreak of the Dancing Sickness in Aachen, Germany, 1374

"Dance at Molenbeek" by Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

They danced until they dropped.

A very strange phenomenon took place in Europe in the 13th through the 17th centuries. People danced. Hundreds of them, sometimes thousands, involuntarily and uncontrollably. They danced until they dropped from exhaustion, or until their feet were bloody, or until they died. Sometimes they sang, shrieked, begged for deliverance. Sometimes they had visions.

There were reports of all types of bizarre behavior among the afflicted. Some engaged in lewd behavior. Some could not stand the color red, or pointed shoes. There were reports that some dancers enjoyed having their feet hit. Many of them experienced visions, or achieved a state of ecstasy.

No one today knows what caused this behavior, but it seems to have stopped, suddenly, in the 17th century. The outbreaks started small, with only a few people. More people would join them. Sometimes musicians were provided by the town, in the belief that music would calm the sufferers or exorcise the demons. Usually it just led to more dancing.

One of the best-documented cases is the one which occurred in Aachen, Germany, beginning on June 23, 1374. There was no widespread agreement, even then, as to the cause. It was sometimes called the "dancing plague" and it was believed that it was sent by St. John, or by St. Vitus, or that, if the saints hadn't caused it, at least they could cure it. Consequently, the ailment was also known as "St. John's Dance" or St. Vitus's Dance." (This is different ailment than the one which later became known as "St. Vitus's Dance" which is actually Sydenham's chorea, and involves jerking movements of the face, feet, and hands.)

In Italy, they said the bite of the Wolf Spider
was the cause.  © Alvaro/Wikimedia Commons

It's possible of course, that the outbreaks may have been started by someone with a case of Sydenham's chorea, or even epilepsy. Others could have joined them. It's important to remember that the people of the time believed in the possibility of possession, and that tales of outbreaks of the Dancing Plague had been heard since the 7th century or so. Suggestibility can account for a lot.

Of course the music -- which had been provided as a cure or easement of the condition -- no doubt contributed to the contagious effect of the ailment. It also appears that those who didn't participate in the dance were sometimes likely to be assaulted.

Was the story of the Pied Piper inspired by the phenomenon?
In Italy the phenomenon was called Tartanism, and it was believed that it was caused by the bite of a type of wolf spider called a "tarantula." (Not of the same family as what we call a tarantula today.) Many of those who danced admitted that they had not been bitten, but believed that they had contracted the disease from exposure to someone who had. Supposedly the dance, the tarantella, was derived from the dancing done by the victims. We know today, however, that there is no organic reason for someone bitten by the wolf spider to need to dance.

One explanation that has been offered for the manifestation is ergot poisoning. Ergot is a parasitical fungus that grows on grain, and that, when ingested, can cause hallucinogenic effects. The alkaloid produced by the fungus has many qualities similar to lysergic acid diethylamide -- LSD. (In fact, ergot is one of the possible explanations that have been suggested for the Salem witch trials, as ergot poisoning can cause many of the symptoms that the Salem inhabitants attributed to being "bewitched.") It is really difficult to explain, however, how ergot poisoning could come to manifest itself in dancing -- and why it would affect everybody in the same way.

Whatever the cause, the Dancing Plague was no trivial matter. The outbreak that started in Aachen in 1374 soon spread to Cologne, Flanders, Franconia, Hainaut, Metz, Strasbourg, and Utrecht. After that it traveled to Italy, France, and Holland.

Another major outbreak took place in Strasbourg, France in 1518. It started with one woman, who danced for somewhere between four and six days. Within a week, there were at least 35 people dancing, and within a month, there were 400. Some of them died from heart failure, dehydration, or exhaustion.

Aachen today.  © Arne Hückelheim/Wikimedia Commons

June 23, 2015

It Happened on June 23rd

Vincent Chin Killed in Highland Park, 1982

Vincent Chin © Star Tribune

Vincent Chin wasn't even Japanese.

He was, however, a young man about to be married, and on June 23, 1982, he was having his bachelor party at a strip club called Fancy Pants in Highland Park, Michigan. Highland Park is a city in Michigan almost completely surrounded by the city of Detroit, except for a small section that touches the city of Hamtramck. Hamtramck, in turn, is also surrounded by Detroit -- except for the section that touches Highland Park.

Also present in the bar that night were Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. Ebens was a plant superintendant at a Chrysler factory. Nitz had recently been laid off from his auto-industry job. Back in the early 1980's the American auto industry was in big trouble. Not helping matters much was the way the smaller, more economical Japanese cars were becoming more and more popular.

Ebens and Nitz believed Chin was Japanese. He wasn't. Vincent Chin was a Chinese-American, adopted from China, who had lived almost all his life in the Detroit area. He was a draftsman for an automobile supplier.

Words were exchanged between Chin's party and Ebens and Nitz. A witness heard Ebens say, "It's because of you little mother####ers that we're out of work!" A fist fight took place inside the bar, which it appears that the Chin party started. The entire group got thrown out of the bar and parted ways. Then Ebens and Nitz reconsidered, and started looking for Chin.

They caught up with him at McDonald's
After about 20 minutes they found him in a local McDonalds. He tried to escape, but Nitz held him, while Ebens beat him with a baseball bat. He got at least four solid blows in -- at least some of them to the head -- before he was arrested by two off-duty policemen. Chin was taken to the hospital, unconscious, where he lapsed into a coma and died four days later. His last words before he lost consciousness were, "It's not fair."

If the crime hadn't attracted the attention of the advocacy groups, the sentencing certainly did. A number of groups staged demonstrations and wrote letters to newspapers, politicians, and the Department of Justice. Even Lily Chin, the victim's mother, who could barely speak English traveled around the country to raise funds. A journalist named Helen Zia and a lawyer named Liza Cheuk May Chan were particularly instrumental in getting the attention of the Federal prosecution. Ebens and Nitz were soon charged in Federal court.

There were two charges for each: violation of Chin's civil rights and conspiracy. Ebens was found guilty of the first charge, but not of the second. Nitz was acquitted of both. Ebens received a 25-year prison sentence.

On appeal, Ebens's conviction was overturned. It seemed that a prosecution attorney was guilty of coaching witnesses improperly. A new trial was ordered.

Vincent's mother Lily.
This time the venue was moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in an effort to give the men a fair trial. Residents of Cincinnati, however, had had almost no exposure to Chinese-Americans. Out of 200 potential jurors, only 19 had ever met one -- and they were dismissed. They also had little inkling of the hostilities that existed between the Detroit car manufacturing community and the Japanese. The jury -- made of 10 Caucasians and two African-Americans -- found Ebens guilty of all charges.

A subsequent civil trial was settled out of court in 1987. Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 in $30 weekly payments to Chin's estate over the next 10 years. Ebens was to pay $1.5 million at $200 a month for the next two years, and then $200 a month or 25% of his income, whichever was greater. Ebens disposed of his assets shortly before the trial. The suit was renewed 10 years later. As of that date, the total Ebens owed came to $4,683,653.89.

Lily Chin moved back to China in September 1987, hoping to avoid being reminded of her son's death. She died in 2002, after having established a scholarship in Vincent's memory.

June 22, 2015

It Happened on June 22nd

"Tom Dooley" Born, 1845

The real Tom Dula.
In the Appalachian area where he was born and died, Tom Dula's name was pronounced "Dooley." You've probably heard of him -- the Kingston Trio version of the song about him sold over six million copies.

Tom Dula was a real person, however. He was born on June 22, 1845 and was executed on May 1, 1868 for the murder of Laura Foster. Other than that, the details are a little hazy.

We do know that Tom was born to a poor family in Wilkes County, North Carolina. He joined the Confederate Army three months before he turned 18, and served there until the war ended.

He appears to have been somewhat of a ladies' man. He and a neighbor, Ann Foster, had been lovers before he left for the war, and they apparently resumed the relationship when he returned, even though Ann had married James Melton in the meantime. (Some accounts indicate she was married before he left.)

He also seems to have been involved with Pauline (sometimes called Perline) Foster, a cousin of Ann's -- some say at Ann's instigation, to prevent her husband about finding out about her own affair with Tom. He also may have had an affair with another cousin of Ann's, Laura Foster. It seems that all four individuals had syphilis, and it seems that Pauline was most likely the one who infected Tom.

James Grayson turned him in.
Laura -- according to some accounts, and disputed by others -- was pregnant. On the last day of her life she was seen by a neighbor, riding her father's horse. She told the neighbor that she was going to Tennessee, and that she was going to be married there. When her father was told the news, he said that he didn't care whether or not he ever saw his daughter again, but that he wanted his horse back.

Mr. Foster did get his horse back. It returned a few days later with a broken rein, as though it had been tethered and had escaped. No one looked for Laura for awhile; she was assumed to be safely in Tennessee. Tom, however, was still in town. If Laura had eloped, it had been with somebody else.

According to local lore, it was Pauline who found the body. She told officials that Ann had told her where it was buried, and when they looked, there she was. She had been stabbed multiple times with a large knife. One of the stab wounds had pierced her heart.

At about this time, rumors began to circulate that Tom Dula had done the deed. He found it expedient to leave town, and started making his way for the state border, to Tennessee. Along the way, his boots wore out, and he found it necessary to take temporary employment, at least until he could afford a new pair of boots. He found work with James Grayson, a former lieutenant colonel in the Union Army.

The former Governor defended him.
After a short while, Tom had earned enough for a new pair of boots, and had moved on. Soon after that the posse arrived, and Grayson recognized that the description they furnished fit his former hired hand, who had passed himself off as Tom Hall. Grayson joined the posse, and soon found Tom sitting by a stream bathing his feet. His new boots had blistered his feet.

Tom was brought back for trial, and defended by Zebulon Baird Vance, the former Governor of North Carolina. He insisted that he hadn't killed Laura, but was found guilty. An appeal to the Supreme Court of North Carolina resulted in another trial, and he was found guilty once again.

Historical Marker
Before his execution, Tom wrote a 15-page account that exonerated Ann Melton. He was hanged, not from a "white oak tree" as the song says, but from a post near the train depot. His neck did not break, but he strangled slowly, taking about 10 minutes to die. Just before he was executed, he claimed "I never hurt a hair on that girl's head."

Did Tom Dula kill Laura Foster, and if so, why? Was he upset about the pregnancy and didn't want to get married? Did he blame Laura for the syphilis? Was Laura actually on her way to marry someone else and had she and Tom had a falling out?

Some believe that Tom didn't commit the murder, but that Laura was killed by Ann in jealousy, or even by Pauline. Even Tom's 15-page document is a little suspicious, considering that when he joined the army he signed his name with an X -- he was apparently illiterate.

And here are the Kingston Trio singing their 1959 hit:

June 21, 2015

It Happened on June 21st

Marie-Joseph Angelique Executed for Burning of Montreal, 1734

Marie-Joseph Angelique was a black slave born in Portugal in about 1710. After a few transactions, she ended up in Montreal, the property of a French businessman named Francois Poulin de Francheville. Francheville died in 1733 and ownership of Marie-Joseph passed to his widow, Therese de Couagne.

Marie-Joseph was apparently not a very submissive slave. She was known to talk back to her mistress, and she once tried to escape with her lover, a white indentured servant named Claude Thibault. They were recaptured about two weeks later.

Therese de Couagne was a busy woman, handling her deceased husband's estate. She didn't have time to deal with a recalcitrant slave and so she arranged to sell her to one of her husband's former business partners. De Couagne would pay for Marie-Joseph's transport to Quebec City and would receive 600 pounds of gunpowder in exchange for the slave.

Thibault, meanwhile, was still being held in prison for his part in the escape, and was not released until April 8th, two days before the fire. Upon his release, he went to see de Couagne and demand his unpaid wages. She paid him, and forbade him to ever set foot on her property again. She also told him that Marie-Joseph would be sent to Quebec City as soon as the ice on the St. Lawrence River cleared.

On the evening of April 10th, fire broke out at the de Couagne home. Despite the best efforts of the townspeople, the fire spread through the town, burning down 46 buildings -- homes, shops, and the local hospital and convent. No one was killed, but some householders lost everything they owned. Looting was also taking place in the midst of the turmoil.

Soon rumors began to spread that Marie-Joseph had started the fire. A young Native American slave named Marie-Manon seemed to be the source of the rumors. She claimed that she had heard Marie-Joseph say that Madame de Couagne would not sleep in her house that night. Soon, nearly everyone in town believed that Marie-Joseph and Thibault had started the blaze.

The next morning, Marie-Joseph was arrested. Two days later, a warrant for Thibault's arrest was also made up, but he had disappeared, and was never seen again. The trial lasted over six weeks. Every witness called believed that Marie-Joseph had started the fire, but no one had actually seen her do it. The prosecution was about to ask for permission to question Marie-Joseph under torture, since there was no evidence to convict her.

At this point, an eyewitness appeared. It was a five-year-old girl named Amable Moniere, who said that she had seen Marie-Joseph carrying a shovelful of coals to the attic on the day in question. No one questioned why the child had remained quiet about it all this time.

The verdict was guilty and the punishment was severe. Marie-Joseph was to be taken in a cart to the parish church. There, after she admitted her crime and asked forgiveness, she was to have her hand cut off. She would then be taken in the cart to a public place where she would be burned alive. Before all this happened, she would be tortured in "both ordinary and extraordinary ways." They still hoped that she would name Thibault as her accomplice.

Fortunately for Marie-Joseph, the verdict was automatically appealed, as it was on all criminal verdicts. The Superior Court was more merciful. She was no longer to have her hand cut off, or to be burned alive. Now, the sentence was that she would be hanged until dead and then burned. The torture still stood, however.

The torture method used was called the "boot." It consisted of four planks that were nailed together and tied to the prisoner's legs. Wedges were then inserted between the planks and the legs, and hammered in. Four wedges constituted "ordinary" torture, and four more were administered for "extraordinary" torture. The increased pressure slowly crushed the victims' legs.

Marie-Joseph confessed to her own involvement, but insisted that she acted alone. She was then executed on June 21, 1734.

Alexander J. Dallas Born, 1759

Alexander J. Dallas, volunteer
Alexander J. Dallas was born in Kingston, Jamaica on June 21, 1759. His family moved to Scotland when he was five years old. He also lived in London for awhile, and moved back to Jamaica after his marriage. His wife's health, however, was not good in Jamaica, so they settled in Philadelphia.

Dallas was a lawyer, but not a very busy one. In order to eke out a living, he also edited the Pennsylvania Herald and the Columbia Magazine. One of his functions as editor was to report the legal cases that took place in Philadelphia.

In 1791, when the U.S. Supreme Court -- along with the rest of the Federal Government -- moved to Philadelphia, it was a natural development for him to begin reporting their cases and decisions. He was unpaid and unofficial, but the results of the work were his own, and he was allowed to profit by publishing them and selling the volumes. He was the first Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

His work was criticized by his contemporaries for being incomplete and inaccurate. They were also produced very late -- in some cases as much as five years after the decisions.

The Supreme Court moved to Washington DC in 1800, and Dallas stayed behind. He said, "I have found such miserable encouragement for my reports that I have determined to call them all in, and devote them to the rats in the State-House."

Dallas's successor, William Cranch
Dallas was succeeded by William Cranch as Reporter of Decisions. Cranch was another unpaid volunteer. In 1817 the position was made an official one, which paid an annual salary of $1000. Since this was not adequate to pay for the publication of the reports, the Reporter was still allowed to profit from their publication.

In later life, Dallas served as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. He was also Acting Secretary of War and Acting Secretary of State for a brief time.

June 20, 2015

It Happened on June 20th

British Soldiers Die in the Black Hole of Calcutta, 1756

The area inside the fence contained the cell and 146 prisoners.
The East India Company had established Fort William in Calcutta, India, for the purpose of the protecting the Company and its trade. In 1756, the British, expecting trouble from the French, began to build up the fort's defenses. The Nawab of Bengal objected, seeing the British presence as a threat to his own power. He insisted that they stop the upgrade immediately. The British refused.

The Nawab then laid siege to the fort. Most of the men escaped, leaving a token force inside the fort. The fort was quickly taken by the Indian forces.

There were about 65 to 70 British soldiers in the fort, and a number of Anglo-Indian soldiers and civilians. All were taken prisoner. Some managed to escape quickly, and some others attacked the guards. The guards decided that it would be a good idea to lock them up.

The room they used was a small cell, about 14 by 18 feet. It was intended for use to lock up two or three men at a time. They forced in 146.

The room had two small windows, one of which opened onto a veranda, where a guard was stationed. Some of the men offered the guard 1000 rupees if he would have them moved to a larger room. He left to check on that, and then returned, saying it was impossible. They doubled the bribe. He left again and returned to say no. The Nawab was asleep, and no one wanted to wake him.

The Nawab was not to be disturbed.
Several men had died in the first few hours, and the rest were desperate for water. One of the guards brought some to the window, where the men closest to the window put it into hats, and attempted to pass it back. The men were frantic, and nearly all of the water was spilled. The men farthest in the back pushed forward, trying to get to the window, and crushed and suffocated those in front of them. Some fell to the ground, and were trampled and suffocated where they lay.

The Nawab rose the next morning at 6:00 am and ordered his men to open the door. Of the 146 men, only 23 were still living. One of the survivors was John Zephaniah Holwell, whose account of the incident is the basis of most of our information. (Other survivors basically agreed with him, but differed as to details. Modern historians think the whole story may have been exaggerated.) The Nawab expressed no regret over the incident. He did, however, offer the British commanding officer a glass of water and a chair.

The Sack of Baltimore, 1631

Pilchards were big business in Baltimore
In the 17th century Baltimore, Ireland, was an important site of the pilchard industry. Pilchards are oily fish, similar to sardines -- in fact, in some areas, sardine is just another name for a young pilchard. The fish were collected and then heaped into piles, with each layer covered with salt. After they had been piled in this fashion for a month, they would keep for up to a year, and could be placed into hogshead barrels. The barrels were then pressed for their oil, which was used for lamp oil, among other things. The fish, of course, were good eating, and kept well. Both the fish and the oil could be exported.

The pilchard industry in Baltimore was under the control of the O'Driscoll chieftain, Sir Fineen O'Driscoll. Most of the residents of Baltimore were English Protestants who had come there for the pilchard trade. They were resented by the local Irish Catholics.

The Barbary Pirates were feared with good reason.
On June 20th, 1631, Algerian pirates from the Barbary Coast sailed into the harbor of Baltimore. The pirates were under the command of a renegade Dutchman named Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murat Reis the Younger. They had been led there by an Irish captain, John Hackett. Hackett had been captured by the Barbary Pirates and had agreed to lead them to Baltimore in exchange for his freedom. He was no doubt also motivated by the idea of leading them away from his own village.

They took the villagers entirely by surprise. There were 200 armed pirates, who torched the thatched roof cottages and took away men, women, and children. It was the worst raid ever made by the Barbary pirates on the mainland of Ireland or England. They took 108 English settlers, and undoubtedly a few of the local Irish as well. Three of the women were later ransomed, but the rest were never heard of again. Most would spend the rest of their lives as laborers or concubines in the Sultan's household, or sold as galley slaves.

One theory that has been suggested is that the raid was engineered by Sir Walter Coppinger, a rival of Fineen O'Driscoll, who wanted to control the village himself, and to send the English packing. If it was his plan, it worked. Most of the remaining settlers moved to Skibbereen, and Coppinger did eventually gain control of the village.

John Hackett, who led the pirates to Baltimore, was captured and arrested, and ended his life by being hanged on a cliff just outside of the village.

June 19, 2015

It Happened on June 19th

Colonists Leave Roanoke Island, 1586

1585 map of the area
This was the first British settlement on Roanoke Island, not the famous Lost Colony that disappeared. Things ended much more happily for most of this first group of settlers.

The story begins on March 25, 1584, when Queen Elizabeth granted a Royal Charter to Sir Walter Raleigh. He was given seven years. During that time he needed to establish a settlement in Virginia, or he would lose his right to do so. Both the Queen and Raleigh were anticipating that they would be able to gather riches from the New World. They also wanted a base for their privateers, who were charged with raiding the Spanish.

Raleigh never visited Virginia -- or any of North America. He did, however, lead several expeditions to South America, searching for gold in the legendary city of El Dorado. He sent an expedition in April, which arrived on July 4th, and made the acquaintance of the local tribes, the Secotans and the Croatans. The ship returned to England (leaving the settlers behind) and brought back two Croatans to Raleigh, who furnished him with information about the place.

In April of 1585 Raleigh sent five more ships to Roanoke. The Englishmen had barely started exploring the area when an incident occurred. A silver cup had vanished from the English settlement, and the natives were blamed for stealing it. In retaliation, the English sacked and burned an Aquascogoc village.

Tensions were high and food was low, but the leader of the group, Sir Richard Grenville, decided to leave a group of 107 men to form a permanent settlement at the north end of Roanoke Island, while he went back to England for more men and supplies. He left on August 17, 1585.

Sir Francis Drake -- brought them home.
By the following spring, Grenville still hadn't returned, and the natives had attacked the settler's fort, probably in retaliation for the village-burning incident. Soon after that, the settlers were visited by Sir Francis Drake, who had been raiding in the Caribbean and was returning to England. He offered to take the settlers. They accepted. The ship left Roanoke on June 19, 1586. They took with them samples of tobacco, corn, and potatoes -- all New World plants that the Europeans had never seen before.

Sir Walter Raleigh -- protecting his interests.
A small party was left behind on Roanoke, in order to protect Raleigh's claim to Virginia. When the next expedition arrived at Roanoke, they found no one there -- all that remained was a single skeleton that may have belonged to one of the Englishmen. The people of the second settlement -- all 118 of them, including the baby Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the New World -- would disappear before 1590. To this day, no one knows what happened to them. But that is another story.

Garfield Debuts, 1978

Jim Davis, creator of Garfield. ©Connormah/Wikimedia Commons
Today, Garfield is the most widely syndicated comic strip in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. His career got started on June 19, 1978, when the first Garfield strip was published in 41 newspapers across the country.

Garfield's creator, Jim Davis, was no stranger to cartooning -- or to cats, for that matter. The feisty hero of the strip is based on the 25 or so cats he knew growing up on his parents' Black Angus farm in Fairmount, Indiana. Garfield's name, however, as well as certain aspects of his personality, comes from Davis's grandfather, James A. Garfield Davis, whom Davis remembers as a "large cantankerous man."

As a child, Davis suffered from allergies and asthma -- a rough problem to have on a cattle farm. He spent a lot of time inside, and learned that he loved to draw. After high school, he attended Ball State University, where he majored in art and business.

Davis's first job after college was at an advertising agency, but he soon found something more to his liking. Tom K. Ryan, a cartoonist who lived in Muncie, Indiana, needed an assistant. Ryan's strip was called Tumbleweeds, and Davis learned a lot about the business from him.

Jim Davis's first solo cartoon was called Gnorm Gnat. It ran for five years in a local Indiana newspaper, but he was never able to syndicate it. One editor told him, "Your art is good, your gags are great, but bugs -- nobody can relate to bugs!" Davis finished Gnorm Gnat by having a giant foot come out of the sky and crush him.

His next strip was Garfield. It was picked up by the United Feature Syndicate and was an instant success. Nevertheless, after it had run a few months, one Chicago paper decided to cancel it and try something else. 1300 angry fans wrote in. The strip was quickly reinstated.

By 1982, the strip was appearing in 100 newspapers, and by 1987, in 200. Today it runs in over 2600 newspapers, and it is estimated that 263,000,000 people read it every day.