March 20, 1899: Martha M. Place is the first woman to die in the electric chair. Martha suffered a head injury at the age of 23. Her brother claimed she suffered from residual effects for the rest of her life. Martha married William Place in 1893. He had a daughter, Ida, from a previous marriage. William was looking for a stepmother for his daughter who was 12 years old at the time of the marriage. It was rumored Martha was jealous of Ida. Police were called to the Brooklyn, New York house on at least one occasion and Martha was arrested for threatening Ida’s life.
On February 5, 1898, Martha attacked her husband with an axe as he arrived home from work. He fled to a neighbor’s and called police. Martha was found on the floor with the natural gas escaping into the room. She was in critical condition, but was revived. Seventeen-year-old Ida was found in her upstairs bedroom. Her eyes were disfigured by acid thrown in her face and her mouth was bleeding. She had been smothered.
Martha proclaimed her innocence before and during her trial. Her husband took the stand as a key witness against his wife. She was found guilty of murder after his testimony was given. Martha was sent to Sing Sing Prison to await her execution. The prison is located on the Hudson River in Ossining, New York about 30 miles north of New York City. The colorful phrase of being “sent up the river” comes from convicts in NYC being sent upriver to the state penitentiary.
The electric chair, called Old Sparky (at least at Sing Sing, but with other sobriquets in different prisons) debuted in the prison famous for its harsh treatment of society’s worst criminals. The electric chair was supposed to be a kinder, more humane method of execution than hanging, the preferred method in the 1880s. The first person executed was William Kemmler and it did not go as planned. The executioner had to devise a decorous way to place the electrodes on a woman. He succeeded and Martha died instantly. A total of 613 people were executed in the chair before 1963, when it was abolished.
“It’s obvious. Life doesn’t belong to us and what you have not given, you cannot take away.” – Sami Aldeeb
“Must we kill to prevent there being any wicked? This is to make both parties wicked instead of one.” – Blaise Pascal
“Unnatural death is wrong, no matter who does it.” – Antoinette Bosco, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered
“The death penalty does not do for the victim’s family what they expect it will – it doesn’t give them back what they have lost, and someone else’s son has also been killed.” – Rev. Walter Everett
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2010. Editor’s update: The death penalty, or capital punishment, has been invoked for a number of crimes. It is a “capital” crime from the Latin for “head” – capitalis – because of the execution method of beheading. Murder, espionage and treason have been crimes which resulted in the criminal’s execution as have rape, adultery, incest, and sodomy. Court-martials have invoked the penalty for cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny. There have been many gruesome ways to carry out the punishment such as boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, impalement, stoning, burning, and a number of other creative methods of tortuous death. Today, China, India, Indonesia, the US are the four most populous nations still using the death penalty.
Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Iditarod Winner – In 1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.
March 20, 1922: The USS Langley (CV-1) is commissioned by the US Navy. The ship was built by Mare Island Navel Shipyard. Construction began on October 18, 1911 and the USS Jupiter was launched on August 14, 1912 and commissioned on April 7, 1913. The ship was a collier or transport class. Her first official sea voyage was transporting US Marine Corps troops in 1914. She was 542.3 feet long and 65.3 feet at the beam. She was crewed by 163 officers and men. She proved valuable sailing the Atlantic bringing men and supplies to the European theater during World War I.
A refit was authorized on July 11, 1919. Jupiter sailed to Hampton Roads, Virginia. She arrived on December 12 and was decommissioned on March 24, 1920. At the Norfolk, Virginia navy yards an experiment was carried out. Upgrades were placed and the ship’s outline was altered. On April 11, 1920 her name was changed to USS Langley in honor of Samuel Pierpont Langley, an aeronautics pioneer. When commissioned on this date, Langley was the US Navy’s first aircraft carrier. The idea of floating airports was tested as early as 1910, just seven years after the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk.
Commander Kenneth Whiting was in charge of the craft, now crewed by 468 officers and men. On October 17, 1922 Lt. Virgil C. Griffin piloted the first plane launched from the Langley – also launching a new era in the US Navy. With the Langley underway on October 26, Lt. Cmdr. Godfrey de Courcelles Chevalier made the first landing. He was flying an Aeromarine 39B – a biplane / seaplane used for training. The next first came on November 18 when the first aviator (Cmdr. Whiting) was catapulted from the flight deck. On February 27, 1942, USS Langley was severely damaged in a Japanese attack. After rescuing survivors, her escorts sank the doomed ship.
Aircraft carriers play a major role in today’s Navy. There are two classes of carriers: Nimitz and Enterprise (Kitty Hawk was decommissioned in May 2009). Nimitz class aircraft carriers are the most modern. They use a nuclear powered propulsion system and cost about $4.5 billion each to build. These ships are 1,092 feet long, 134 feet at the beam, and have a flight deck measuring 254 feet in width. They are crewed by 3,200 with another 2,480 assigned to the Air Wing. They support 85 aircraft and hold varying armaments, depending on assignments.
In principal, having carrier capability is desirable and ditto for nuclear propulsion. An aircraft carrier is all about presence and adds to the navy’s capability. – Uday Bhaskar
A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace. – Theodore Roosevelt
No matter what happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping. – Frank Knox
My only great qualification for being put at the head of the Navy is that I am very much at sea. – Edward Carson
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.
March 20, 1985: Libby Riddles wins the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She was the first woman to win the 1,130 mile long race. There are actually two routes used for the race. The northern route is run on even numbered years and the southern route is run on odd numbered years. Both follow the same trail for 444 miles from Anchorage to Ophir. They then head in opposites directions until merging again at Kaltag and following the same path for the last 441 miles to Nome. The exact miles, therefore, vary from year to year ranging from 1,112 to 1,131 miles depending on the exact route.
The race itself was first run in 1973 and begins on the first Saturday in March each year. There are typically teams of 16 dogs pulling the sled laden with supplies and the handler. The fastest time to date was accomplished in 2002 by Martin Buser who made the trip in 8 days, 22 hours, 47 minutes, and 2 seconds. The race commemorates the “Great Race of Mercy” from 1925 when Nome was iced in and in desperate need of Diphtheria antitoxin. There were no planes available, no train tracks to Nome, no roads, no way for a ship to arrive at the iced in port. Dogsleds delivered the serum with the last relay of the journey seeing Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto, pulling into town on February 2 at 3 AM, ahead of schedule.
The race now has 26 checkpoints on the northern route and 27 on the southern route. Mushers must sign in at all checkpoints. Supplies are purchased in Anchorage and then flown into various checkpoints as the mushers dictate. When they check in, they pick up waiting supplies. Some mushers rest themselves and their teams, other push onward. There are three mandatory rests along the Iditarod: one mandatory 24 hour layover to be taken at any checkpoint, one eight hour layover along the Yukon River, and one eight hour stop at White Mountain.
Libby Riddles was born April 1, 1956 in Madison, Wisconsin. She moved to Alaska when she was 17. Her first race was in 1978 where she won first place in the Clines Mini Mart Sprint race. She finished 18th and 20th in the 1980 and 1981 Iditarod races. At that point, she decided to breed her own dogs. After winning the race in 1985 using her own dogs, she decided to spend the next six years living as an Alaskan Native.
“To lead the Iditarod under a full moon without feeling rushed, or looking over my shoulder, it was a wonderful evening.” - Jeff King, 4 time Iditarod winner
“This [dog sled racing] is something that’s in my blood that has been passed down.” – Darin Nelson, Iditarod musher
“I tell diabetic kids that if I can run a dog sled across the state of Alaska for 1,150 miles, then you can get off the couch and do anything a non-diabetic can do.” – Bruce Linton, two time contestant, also diabetic
“I eat beans and rice while my dogs eat steak and eggs.” – Martin Buser, four time Iditarod winner.
March 20, 1885: Jan, also known as John, Matzeliger [1852-1889] patents a shoe lasting machine. Jan was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana to an African homemaker and a Dutch engineer. He moved to the US at the age of 18 and worked in a shoe factory in Philadelphia.
Shoe makers cobbled shoes in a time-intensive manner using a lasting pincher. This tool helped to get the leather upper attached to the sole of the shoe. It limited the output to a few pairs of shoes per day.
Matzeliger’s new machine automated the process of attaching the sole. The leather upper was placed tightly over the last [a form in the shape of a foot] and the under sole was arranged over it and pinned in place while the outer sole was attached. The process took approximately one minute.
The earliest shoes date from between 8000 and 7000 BC. They were found in Oregon in 1938. Most early shoes were made of tanned leather and didn’t usually last long enough for us to find them and it is assumed shoes have been worn for at least 26,000 years and probably closer to 40,000 years. During this time frame, the bones of the feet were thinning and so it assume shoes were being regularly worn. Early shoes were more like foot bags used to protect the feet.
By the Middle Ages, turn-shoes were developed. It was made of leather put together inside out. There were flaps that then allowed it to be turned after it was made. As wealth increased, the aesthetic looks to shoes also improved. Since the 17th century, shoes have been made with a sewn-on sole. For all the women worldwide who love to buy shoes, Matzeliger’s invention put them within our financial grasp.
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” – Carl G. Jung
“A Roman divorced from his wife, being highly blamed by his friends, who demanded, ‘Was she not chaste? Was she not fair? Was she not fruitful?’ holding out his shoe, asked them whether it was not new and well made. ‘Yet,’ added he, ‘none of you can tell where it pinches me.’” – Plutarch
“If the shoe fits, it’s too expensive.” – Adrienne Gusoff
“Shopping tip: You can get shoes for 85 cents at the bowling alley.” – unknown
Also on this day, in 1899 the Martha Place became the first women to be executed by electric chair.