Little Bits of History

Pusha da Button!

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2014
Giuseppe Zangara

Giuseppe Zangara

March 20, 1933: Giuseppe Zangara dies in the electric chair. Zangara was born in 1900 in Ferruzzano, Calabria, Kingdom of Italy. He served in the Tyrolean Alps during World War I. After the war he moved back to his village where he held several menial jobs. He immigrated to the US in 1923 meeting with his uncle who had already relocated. He became a naturalized citizen in 1929. He was, by occupation, a bricklayer. However, he complained of continuous abdominal pains after having an appendectomy in 1926. Adhesions are presumed to be the cause of the pain and in some fashion are also implicated into Zangara’s spiral into madness.

Zangara’s employment was sketchy and he moved from New Jersey to Florida and settled in Miami. On February 15, 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt gave on impromptu speech from the back of an open car near Bayfront Park. The mostly unemployed Zangara took the opportunity to make an assassination attempt against the President. He came to the park with a .32 caliber pistol he had gotten from a pawn shop. He had to stand on a metal folding chair to see over the crowds as he was only five feet tall. He took aim and shot. Nearby spectators grabbed at him but he was able to get four more shots off before he was subdued. He injured five people included Chicago mayor Anton Cermak who was standing next to Roosevelt.

Zangara immediately confessed to the shootings and stated, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” He pled guilty and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Nineteen days later, on March 6, Cermak died from his wounds and the charge was increased to first-degree murder and the sentence was changed to the death sentence. Usually inmates sentenced to death were kept apart from other inmates but on this occasion, another prisoner was already awaiting his date with Old Sparky. The Death Cell became Death Row. On the way to electric chair, on this day, Zangara was once again verbose, “Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! [...] Pusha da button!”

It is unclear as to whether or not Cermak was the real target. It is assumed that Roosevelt was the person Zangara was aiming for, but he was noted as an expert marksman in the Italian Army and he should have been able to hit his target. However, that classification was with a rifle and not the pistol he was using. There are reasons that Cermak could have been the intended target since Chicago was having difficulties with crime, especially from Frank Nitti – head of the Chicago Outfit (the city’s largest organized crime syndicate). It is also speculated that Cermak was the target because he was associated the Outfit’s rivals.

One kills a man, one is an assassin; one kills millions, one is a conqueror; one kills everybody, one is a god. – Jean Rostand

The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin. – Alexander Cockburn

It is true that I have not come on the Mayflower, but I came as fast as I could. – Anton Cermak

I’m glad it was me instead of you. – Anton Cermak’s alleged words to Franklin Roosevelt after he was shot.

Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Martha Place – In 1899, Martha was the first woman to be executed via the electric chair.
Iditarod Winner – In  1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.

Tired of Looking

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 19, 2014
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

March 19, 1687: René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle is murdered. La Salle was a French explorer of the Great Lakes region of the US and Canada as well as the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. He was born into a noble family in Rouen, France in 1643 and enjoyed science and nature as a young boy. He was schooled by Jesuits and took initial vows in 1660. He traveled to Canada and by 1667 was released from his vows with the religious order after citing “moral weaknesses” for cause. He never took his final vow and would later become hostile to the order. He was not a priest although his older brother was a Sulpician priest.

When he joined the Jesuits, he was required to reject his father’s legacy which meant that much of his exploration had to be done with limited funding or after begging others for monies. His brother had come to Canada a year before and Robert joined him after being granted a Seigneurie for land on the end of the Island of Montreal. This semi-feudal system left him able to amass enough wealth to continue explorations after selling his interest in the venture. La Salle had been told about a great river called the Ohio which flowed into the larger Mississippi. La Salle hoped that the Mississippi flowed all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. His goal was to find a westward passage to the bountiful Chinese trade.

He went as proxy for the Governor of New France to the mouth of the Cataraqui River to meet with leader of the Five Nations of the Iroquois and hoped to build a trade relationship. La Salle had a facility with languages and learned many native tongues and could effectively communicate with the tribes who could bring beaver pelts to be sold back home. He was able to establish some trade agreements. In 1679 he launched a ship, Le Griffon, filled it with the desired pelts and sent it off when it promptly disappeared, never to be seen again. He continued to seek a way westward and built forts at strategic locations over the years. He named the area he explored around the Mississippi River basin as La Louisiane, after King Louis XIV.

He traveled between the colonies and France and when returning in July 1684 returned leading a colonization fleet of four ships with 300 colonists aboard. One ship was lost to pirates, one sunk, one ran aground, and they finally landed and built a fort on Garcitas Creek in Victoria County, Texas. La Salle wanted to find the Mississippi and tried on three separate occasions to head east and locate the mouth of the mighty river. On the last attempt, the 36 surviving men mutinied near present day Navasota, Texas. At this point Pierre Duhaut rose up against La Salle and killed him. Duhaut was killed to avenge La Salle.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot

As beautiful as simplicity is, it can become a tradition that stands in the way of exploration. – Laura Nyro

The good is, like nature, an immense landscape in which man advances through centuries of exploration. – Jose Ortega y Gasset

We are living through a remarkably privileged era, when certain deep truths about the cosmos are still within reach of the human spirit of exploration. – Brian Greene

Also on this day: Avalanche – In 1775, four people were buried in an avalanche and three survived 37 days.
PTL Club – In 1987, Jim Bakker resigned as chairman of his PTL ministry.
And the Winner Is … – In 1953, the Oscars were televised for the first time.
Rack ‘Em Up – In 1954, Willie Mosconi ran the table, for 526 balls.

Martyrs to the Cause

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 18, 2014
Tolpuddle Martyrs contemporary illustration

Tolpuddle Martyrs contemporary illustration

March 18, 1834: The Tolpuddle Martyrs are sentenced to deportation. The Ordinance of Labourers passed in 1349 and is often considered the beginning of English labor law. It fixed wages and imposed price controls as well as required everyone under the age of 60 to work. There were a few other items to the law. Although often revised and ignored, it wasn’t repealed until 1863. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, there was an influx of unskilled and semi-skilled workers into the job markets. Trade unions began to form and the government sought to control public unrest due to unfair work practices. So they passed the Combination Act in 1799 which banned trade unions and collective bargaining.

Unions were already widespread and although there was an effort to rid the country of them, they simply would not go away. By 1824/25, the Combination Act was repealed and unions were no longer illegal. In 1832, the Reform Act extended the right to vote but still did not grant universal suffrage. Six men in Tolpuddle in Dorset, England founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers  whose main purpose was to protest against the lowering of agricultural wages due to an excess of workers and a mechanization of the farming process. They refused to work for less than ten shillings per week – although the wages at the time had already fallen to seven shillings and would eventually drop to six.

James Frampton, a local landowner, wrote to the Prime Ministers, Lord Melbourne, to complain about this union behavior. He mentioned an old, obscure law from 1797 prohibiting men from swearing an oath to each, which was part of the initiation into the Friendly Society. James Brine, James Hammett, George Loveless, James Loveless (brothers), Thomas Standfield (George’s brother-in-law), and John Standfield (Thomas’s son) were all arrested and brought to trial before Judge Baron John Williams. They were found guilty and transported to Australia for seven years.

The men became popular heroes and 800,000 signatures were collected demanding their release. Their supporters organized one of the first successful political marches in the UK. In 1836, Lord John Russell, recently appointed to Home Secretary, allowed for the men’s release from their sentence, all except James Hammet who had a prior criminal record. Four of them men returned to England. Hammet was released in 1837. The four who returned to England first went to Essex and then moved to London, Ontario, Canada. Today, there is a museum for the men and their impact on trade unions in England located in Tolpuddle, Dorset. There is an annual festival held in their honor as well.

The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds. – Abraham Lincoln

Labor cannot stand still. It must not retreat. It must go on, or go under. – Harry Bridges

The only effective answer to organized greed is organized labor. – Thomas Donahue

The scaffold has never yet and never will destroy an idea or a movement. – Joseph Ettor

Also on this day: New London, Texas – In 1937, a school explosion took place in Texas.
Jacques Trumped – In 1314, Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake.
Tri-State Tornado – In 1925, a destructive tornado traveled across three state.
We’ve Got the Power – In 1937, a pedal craft flew the distance.

Not Very Utopian

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 17, 2014
SS Utopia sinking

SS Utopia sinking

March 17, 1891: The SS Utopia sinks. The transatlantic passenger steamship was built in 1874 in Glasgow, Scotland. She made her maiden voyage on May 23, 1874 and from that time until 1882 operated on Anchor Line. The ship made trips from Glasgow to New York City, Glasgow to Bombay, and from London to New York City. She and her sister ships were designed to carry 120 first class passengers, 60 second class, and 600 steerage or third class passengers. After completing twelve round trips between Glasgow and New York City, other routes were added to Utopia‘s list and she continued to successfully sail.

In 1882, she was transferred to the Mediterranean and began to regularly carry Italian immigrants to New York City. In 1890-1891 she was refitted and given a new triple expansion steam engine and the decks were redesigned. First class dropped to 45 passengers, second class was simply dropped, and there were now 900 steerage bunks. On February 25, 1891 Utopia set sail from Trieste to arrive in New York City. There were intermediate stops in Naples, Genoa, and Gibraltar scheduled. On board were 880 people – 815 third class passengers, three first class, three stowaways, and 59 crew members. The ship was captained by John McKeague.

On this day, the ship had reached Gibraltar and the captain pointed the ship to her usual anchorage in the inner harbor. As he got close enough to see better, he noticed the spot was already filled. Sitting at anchor was the HMS Anson. The British battleship had a searchlight on and the Captain claimed he was dazzled by the light and then was suddenly aware that the entire harbor was full of ships. McKeague claimed later that he thought the ship was farther away than it actually was as he hoped to steer around it. A “strong gale combined with current” swept the smaller steamship into the bow of the Anson and the ram of the battleship tore a hole 16 feet wide below the waterline in the Utopia.

McKeague hoped to beach the ship, but the engines were immediately powered down to keep them from exploding. There were not enough lifeboats but even if there had been, the ship’s hold filled with water quickly and the ship listed to 70 degrees, trapping many of the steerage passengers while crushing and sinking the lifeboats. Twenty minutes after impact, the ship sunk to a depth of 56 feet with nothing but the masts showing. Only 318 people survived and two more sailors who had come to help with the rescue were also killed. The captain survived and was found guilty of grave errors. There were lights placed on the above water masts, but even that didn’t prevent a second incident when another ship collided with the wreckage a few days later.

The average man’s judgment is so poor, he runs a risk every time he uses it. – Edgar Watson Howe

Judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.        – Simon Bolivar

Judgment is forced upon us by experience. – Samuel Johnson

An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgments simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore. – Edward De Bono

Also on this day: Wearing of the Green – In 493 or 461, St. Patrick died.
Golda – In 1969, Golda Meir became the Prime Minister of Israel.
Rubber Bands – In 1845, rubber bands were first patented.
Air Force One – Not – In 1957, a plane crashed in the Philippines.

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Space Age Booster

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 16, 2014
Robert Goddard

Robert Goddard

March 16, 1926: Robert Goddard launches the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. Goddard was born to a long established New England family in 1882. Electric power was just coming to American cities in the 1880s and sparked an interest in science in the young boy. When he was five, his father showed him how to make static electricity using his feet on the carpet and the child was forever smitten by the scientific world. He experimented with zinc and batteries and with chemicals, creating smoke and explosions in the house. He got a telescope and a subscription to Scientific American as a child and became interested in flight. He also began to write down all his thoughts and experiments in a diary. By age 16, he tried crafting a balloon out of aluminum. His failure did not dampen his interest.

Around the same time, Goddard read HG Wells’ classic, War of the Worlds and became interested in space. On October 19 when he was 17, he was pruning a cherry tree when he looked up and had an epiphany. He forever after celebrated it as his “Anniversary Day”. Even with all this experimentation, he was a frail and sickly boy and fell behind his classmates. However, he was a voracious reader and educated himself. With his reading, he found Samuel Langley’s papers in the Smithsonian periodical. The more he read, the more he learned about aerodynamics and his quest for space continued. His health improved and he was finally able to graduate from high school in 1904 – as valedictorian. He went on to Worcester Polytechnic Institute and earned his degree in physics in 1908. He taught for a year and in 1909 entered Clark University where he got his master’s degree in 1910 and his PhD in physics in 1911.

He had been submitting scientific articles since his teen years and was granted his first patent on November 2, 1915. Patent 1,159,209 was for the use of a vacuum tube to amplify a signal. By 1913 he was developing the mathematics to calculate both the position and velocity of a rocket in vertical flight. This needed to take into consideration the weight of the rocket and the fuel as well as the consumption of the fuel over time and the pull of gravity. And, of course, temperature would also need to be factored in along with the density of the air and the wind speed. All this was needed in order to be able to successfully launch space vehicles.

He began experimenting with liquid-fuel rockets in September 1921 and it took over two years before he was able to successfully test a liquid propellant engine. The following two years were spent developing a high-pressure piston pump which could send the liquid fuel to the combustion chamber. Funding was a problem and he had to abandon the idea. Instead he began using pressure from an inert gas and by 1925 could manage a lift on December 25. He experimented further and on this day, was able to use a gasoline and liquid oxygen fuel to launch a rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts. The rocket rose 41 feet and traveled a distance of 184 feet in 2.5 seconds. Clearly more work was needed, but the space age was beginning.

It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.

Failure crowns enterprise.

[J]ust as in the sciences we have learned that we are too ignorant to safely pronounce anything impossible, so for the individual, since we cannot know just what are his limitations, we can hardly say with certainty that anything is necessarily within or beyond his grasp.

March 17, 1926. The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn…. Even though the release was pulled, the rocket did not rise at first, but the flame came out, and there was a steady roar. After a number of seconds it rose, slowly until it cleared the frame, and then at express train speed, curving over to the left, and striking the ice and snow, still going at a rapid rate. – all from Robert H. Goddard

Also on this day: Wanting to Win – In 1994, Tonya Harding pled guilty to interfering with an investigation into the Nancy Karrigan attack.
Army Corps of Engineers – In 1802, the Military Peace Establishment Act became law.
Rain, Rain Go Away – In 1952, a record rainfall hit Cilaos, Rèunion.
Aldo Moro - In 1978, the Italian politician was kidnapped.

Too Special Effects

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 15, 2014
Varick Frissell

Varick Frissell

March 15, 1931: The SS Viking explodes. The ship was built by Nylands Shipyards in Oslo, Norway and launched in 1882. Her first voyage was to explore the Arctic with Fridtjof Nansen in command. After this first trip, the wooden hulled whaling ship was used for many years to hunt saddleback seals off the coast of Greenland. In 1904 she was purchased by the Bowring Brothers and placed under the command of Captain William Bartlett and was still used for seal hunting. The Bowring Brothers chartered the ship to Varick Frissell who was planning to film a documentary of the annual seal hunt off the coast of Newfoundland.

While shooting the film in 1930, Captain Bob Bartlett was in command. The film finished production and was shown at Nickel Theatre in St. John’s and it was felt that more sensational footage was needed. In order to secure this post-production addition, the ship was taken back to the same location and some special effects were to be created. For this trip, Captain Abram Kean was in charge. On this day, about eight miles off Horse Islands, the ship exploded. The plan had been to blow up some giant icebergs so there was dynamite stored in the hold. Somehow, the dynamite went off and set the ship on fire. Twenty-seven of the 147 people aboard were killed. Some of the survivors managed to go over ice to Horse Islands while other were rescued by other ships sent out to pick them up. Frissell and his dog were lost to the sea.

Frissell was born in 1903 in Boston, Massachusetts. His family was both wealthy and politically influential. His father was the founder and president if the Fifth Avenue Bank of New York. There were governors and congressmen in his family tree as well as generals. Frissell studied at Yale and in 1921 heard a lecture by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell which piqued his interest in exploration in the frigid north. He went to Labrador to explore and volunteered with the International Grenfell Association, driving a dog-team and working on a hospital boat.

Frissell and Hamilton River, another Yale student, began filming nature documentaries. Frissell also wrote a book about finding the source of a river spoken of in Indian legend as well as making a movie about it. He formed his own company, the Newfoundland-Labrador Film Company and got backing from Paramount Pictures. The filming of the seal hunt was the first Hollywood style sound film ever made in Canada. The film, The Viking, had some action scenes, but more realistic footage was needed. And so, they went out to film and on this fateful day, Frissell’s career ended.

God help me if I ever do another movie with an explosion in it. If you see me in a movie where stuff is exploding you’ll know I’ve lost all my money. – Ben Affleck

There’s only one thing that can kill the movies, and that’s education. – Will Rogers

It’s difficult to find a movie that feels true to itself. You feel the hand of Hollywood, the moviemaking by committee, on everything. – Zack Snyder

Usually a lot of moviemaking is boring. – Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Also on this day: Voting Booths – In 1892, Myers Voting Booths were introduced in New York.
Ides of March – In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated.
The Ashes – In 1877, the first Test Cricket Match between England and Australia began.
Dot Com – In 1985, the first Internet domain name was registered.

Oil, Oil Everywhere

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 14, 2014
Lakeview Gusher Number One

Lakeview Gusher Number One

March 14, 1910: The Lakeview Gusher Number One goes out of control. The Lakeview Oil Company was drilling in the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, located in California. The oil field is the largest known in California and the third largest in the US. It was discovered in 1894 and through 2006 had produced nearly 3 billion barrels of oil. By the end of 2008 it was estimated there were about 532 million barrels left in the ground. Lakeview began drilling their Number One well on January 1, 1909. With the initial drilling, only natural gas was found. They continued to drill and partnered with Union Oil who wanted to build storage tanks at the location.

The technology of the day didn’t have the many safety features which have been implemented since and one of the features lacking was blowout preventers. These valves are used to seal, control, and monitor oil and gas wells and cope with extreme pressures as well as uncontrolled flow. By controlling for these factors, a blowout can be prevented. When drilling depth reached 2,440 feet on March 14, 1910, the pressurized oil blew through the well casing and a gusher started. Initial daily flow lost was 18,800 barrels per day. Crews were rushed in to try to contain the black gold by building sand bag dams and dikes.

Eventually, peak flow reached 90,000 barrels per day and as much oil as possible was diverted via pipline to storage tanks 2.5 miles away. Even with all these efforts nearly half of the oil spewing forth was lost. Since about 9,400,000 barrels gushed up before it was able to be capped in September 1911, it means 4.5 million barrels were lost to evaporation or soaking into the ground. It took 544 days to stop the leak. About 1,230,000 tons of crude spilled during that time. This is far greater than any other leak on land or water. There are several oil spills which have an unknown quantity of crude lost. With 492,000 tons lost, the Deepwater Horizon spill is the second worst on record.

Taylor Energy wells Platform 23051 in the Gulf of Mexico and operated by the US, is an ongoing spill. Somewhere between 70 and 109 tons of oil have been lost since September 2004 when hurricane Ivan struck. Most of the leaks have been contained but the spill is still being serviced by Ocean Saratoga and monitored by the United States Department of the Interior. The leak has been oozing for over 3,400 days. The Kuwait Oil Fires of January to November 1991 destroyed around 6 million barrels of oil per day before the last fire was extinguished. This is, of course, different than an accidental leak situation. Initial efforts to put out the fires were hampered by the mines set around the fields during the Persian Gulf War.

Formula for success: rise early, work hard, strike oil. – J. Paul Getty

The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun. – Ralph Nader

The extraction of oil, coal and minerals brought, and still brings, a cost to the environment. – Bono

We have to rethink our whole energy approach, which is hard to do because we’re so dependent on oil, not just for fuel but also plastic. If plastic vanished, there would be total chaos. We have to think quite carefully about using oil and its derivatives, because it’s not going to be around forever. – Margaret Atwood

Also on this day: Cotton is King – In 1794, Eli Whitney was granted a patent for the cotton gin.
PCN – In 1942, Penicillin was first used on a patient.
Roughest and Toughest – In 1950, the FBI instituted the Ten Most Wanted list.
Cut That Out – In 1937, the Mit Brennender Sorge was read at Catholic Masses in Germany.

Kitty Genovese

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 13, 2014
Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese

March 13, 1964: Kitty Genovese is murdered. She was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens in New York City. While tragic in itself, the 28-year-old’s death became even more so when it was learned how she came to die. Although all the details remain unknown, there are some facts available to us. Some of the “facts” we have are also simply wrong. Kitty was the manager of a bar and was arriving home from work around 3:15 AM. She parked her car about 100 feet from her apartment door and walked the distance to get home for the night. She was approached by then 29-year-old Winston Moseley.

Genovese was frightened and ran toward the front of her building which was on a larger street but her attacker ran faster and caught her. He stabbed her twice in the back. Genovese yelled out, “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” It was a cold night and most people had their windows closed with only a few people realizing it was a cry for help from the street. One of the neighbors yelled out his window at the attacker and Moseley did run off. Genovese was seriously injured in the attack, but was out of view of the neighbors. Some initial calls to police were made but were deemed to be of low priority. Misinformation and misperception both played a part in the reports to police. Some witnesses saw the attacker get in his car and leave.

Only ten minutes later he was back and now wearing a hat. He began searching for his victim and eventually found the wounded woman barely conscious and in a doorway. She was too weak to get inside her building. She was now out of view of the street and out of view of the original site of attack. Moseley stabbed Genovese several more times with knife wounds to her hands showing some defensive moves on her part. While she was dying, Moseley raped her and then stole about $50 from her purse before leaving. The entire attack lasted about 30 minutes. A few minutes after the attack, a final witness called police and by 4:15 AM Genovese was taken by ambulance where died en route to the hospital.

No one witnessed the entire assault and many thought they were seeing a fight between an established couple or a group of friends. Moseley had no prior record and was married with two children. He was arrested six days later while committing a home burglary. On the night of the murder, he had left home about 2 AM and began looking for a victim. While in custody, he admitted to two other murders and committing “30 to 40″ burglaries. Psychiatric examinations suggested he was a necrophile. His lawyers were hoping for a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity but after seven hours of deliberation, the jury came back with a guilty verdict and death sentence. He remains in prison at the Clinton Correctional Facility. He is now 79-years-old. Kitty is buried in New Canaan, Connecticut.

There is no witness so terrible and no accuser so powerful as conscience which dwells within us. – Sophocles

Perfect Valor is to do, without a witness, all that we could do before the whole world. – Francois de La Rochefoucauld

My witness is the empty sky. – Jack Kerouac

One of the privileges of the great is to witness catastrophes from a terrace. – Jean Giraudoux

Also on this day: The Talkies – In 1923, Lee de Forest demonstrated his process to record voices synchronized with film.
Microsoft IPO – In 1986, Microsoft had its Initial Public Offering.
Ballinglass Incident – In 1846, three hundred tenant farmers were evicted.
Dunblane Massacre – In 1996, a gunman entered the Dunblane Primary School with guns blazing.

Water, Water Everywhere

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 12, 2014
Remnants of the St. Francis Dam

Remnants of the St. Francis Dam

March 12, 1928: The St. Francis Dam fails. Construction for the dam began in 1924 and it was completed and started to fill in 1926. The main portion of the dam spanned 700 feet and the wing dike was 588 feet. Built by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (then called the Bureau of Water Works and Supply), it supplied the Los Angeles area with water and power. It was located in the San Francisquito Canyon about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles and about 10 miles north of Santa Clarita. William Mulholland was the chief engineer.

Mulholland was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1855 and after working at sea for four years, he arrived in the Los Angeles area in 1877. He worked his way from well digger to engineer, studying at night after a hard day’s work. He was considered a brilliant student. Los Angeles was a tiny community when Mulholland got off the ship but by 1910 the population was almost 320,000. Water and power were essential commodities. Mulholland oversaw the design and construction of many large, successful projects and this dam was one of these.

The St. Francis was similar to the Mulholland Dam where construction began a year earlier. The downstream face of the dam was stepped with each step a constant five feet but the width of each was varied. Near the streambed (geographic elevation 1,645 feet) it was 5.5 feet thick while at the top (elevation 1,815 feet) it was 1.45 feet thick. The height was 175 feet above the stream bed and it would have the capacity of 30,000 acre-feet. Water began to fill on March 1, 1926 and it rose steadily and uneventfully. There were some minor cracks in the face of the damn, but it was deemed to be amazingly dry as there was little seepage.

Water was pulled off during fighting in the area when part of the water supply was damaged, but after it settled down, the water again began to fill. There were few cracks and they were deemed within standards. On this day, at two minutes before midnight, the entire dam gave way and a wall of water about 140 feet high began a destructive journey to the ocean. About 12.4 billion gallons of water took only 5 hours and 27 minutes to travel 54 miles. Along the way untold numbers of people were killed. It is estimated today to be around 600 deaths which does not include an unknowable number of migrant farmers who were located in the valley. It is considered to be one of the worst civil engineering disasters of the 20th century and remains the second-greatest loss of life in California’s history with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake being the worst.

You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there. – Edwin Louis Cole

Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it. – Lao Tzu

When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,’ you just scream. – John Lennon

By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation. – Edmund Burke

Also on this day: Fireside Chats – In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first Fireside Chat.
Cookie Monster – In 1912, the Girl Scouts of America was founded.
Thing Go Better with Coke – In 1894, Coke was invented.
Attempted Murder in Oz – In 1868, an attempt was made on Prince Alfred’s life.

Death and More Death

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 11, 2014
Rudolf Höss

Rudolf Höss

March 11, 1946: Rudolf Höss is arrested. Rudolf was born in 1901 in Baden-Baden, Germany. His father had been an army officer but now ran a tea and coffee business. The family was staunchly Catholic and Rudolf’s father was steering his eldest child and only son into the priesthood. As a teen, Rudolf was left fatherless and began drifting toward military life. His early upbringing had instilled a sense of duty and a moral life. When World War I broke out, Rudolf was only 14 but still served in a military hospital and soon after was admitted to his father’s and grandfather’s old regiment. At the age of 15 he was serving with the German Army’s 21st Regiment of Dragoons in Baghdad and in Palestine. He was a sergeant by the age of 17, the youngest non-commissioned officer in the army.

After the war ended, Rudolf completed his secondary education and then joined nationalist paramilitary groups and participated in guerrilla attacks against the Polish and the French. In 1922 he denounced the Catholic Church and soon thereafter joined the Nazi Party (Party Member # 3240). Martin Bormann (later Hitler’s private secretary) asked Rudolf and members of the Freikorps to beat up a local schoolteacher, Walther Kadow, who was believed to have betrayed a local to the French authorities. Kadow died of the beating and eventually Rudolf was sentences to ten years in prison but served only four years (Bormann received a one year sentence).

After his release from prison he married Hedwig Hensel. He was invited to join the SS in 1934 and accepted. He had met Himmler before and was happy to join the ranks of SS Mann. In December, Rudolf was assigned to Dachau where he was Blockfuhrer and was said to excel in his duties. He did so well he was promoted to the commandant of Auschwitz. He was commander there for three and a half years. During that time, he killed about 2,000,000 people. After his departure, he was called back to help supervise the killing of 430,000 Hungarian Jews in just 56 days.

When the war was ending, Höss was warned to flee and evaded capture for almost a year. He was under an alias and disguised as a farmer. His wife had given information leading to his arrest in order to protect her children. He was brought to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on April 15, 1946 and gave detailed descriptions of his crimes. This testimony was used against other Nazi members. On May 25, 1946 he was handed over to Polish authorities and tried for murder. He was sentenced to death on April 2, 1947 and was hanged on April 16 from a short drop gallows placed immediately adjacent to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz death camp.

I commanded Auschwitz until 1 December 1943, and estimate that at least 2,500,000 victims were executed and exterminated there by gassing and burning, and at least another half million succumbed to starvation and disease, making a total dead of about 3,000,000. - Rudolf Höss

Technically [it] wasn’t so hard—it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers…. The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 head in half an hour, but it was the burning that took all the time.  – Rudolf Höss

We were required to carry out these exterminations in secrecy but of course the foul and nauseating stench from the continuous burning of bodies permeated the entire area and all of the people living in the surrounding communities knew that exterminations were going on at Auschwitz. – Rudolf Höss

In all of the discussions, Höss is quite matter-of-fact and apathetic, shows some belated interest in the enormity of his crime, but gives the impression that it never would have occurred to him if somebody hadn’t asked him. - Gustave Gilbert, American military psychologist

Also on this day: Freedom of the Press? – In 1702, England got its first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant.
Great Sheffield Flood – In 1864, the South Yorkshire, England region was flooded after a dam failed.
LAX – In 1882, the Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association was formed.
Roxy Theater – In 1927, the Roxy Theater opened in New York City.

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