Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2010

Murders in the Rue Morgue movie poster

April 20, 1841: The first mystery story is published – “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe. The short story saw print in Graham’s Magazine. This story was followed by others centered on the intellectual conquests of C. Auguste Dupin. The story is a locked room case focusing on the intellectual pursuit of the detective rather than the eerie setting of the crime. Dupin is a Paris intellectual, he is not a detective. But by ratiocination, the term Poe used, Dupin placed himself via his vivid imagination into the mind of the criminal. He seemed to read the criminal’s mind and could therefore solve the case. He went on to solve “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter.”

Sherlock Holmes carried on the tradition of reasoning out a solution to a crime. Gathering evidence, finding clues, taking the reader along on the chase and befuddled by red herrings strewn along the path to discovery.

Agatha Christie wrote more than 80 novels in more than 50 years of publishing and gave us both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She was, perhaps, the best known author during the Golden Age of the Mystery. However, Dorothy L. Sayers, a contemporary of Christie, was also a major contributor. Both of these authors were British.

In America, Ellery Queen was thrilling audiences with 33 novels written over a 40 year span. Erle Stanley Gardner gave us Perry Mason, the lawyer who solved mysteries with Paul Drake and Della Street’s help. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe rarely even left his house to solve the mysteries brought to his door. Today’s famous series writers are Sue Grafton with her alphabet of cases for Kinsey Millhone and Robert B. Parker’s Spencer, chasing down the bad guys in Boston. P.D. James has her British policemen solving crimes while Dick Francis uses a backdrop of horse racing while solving mysteries.

“At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable.” – Raymond Chandler

“I’ve always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worry and only half the royalties.” – Agatha Christie

“Send it to someone who can publish it. And if they won’t publish it, send it to someone else who can publish it! And keep sending it! Of course, if no one will publish it, at that point you might want to think about doing something other than writing.” – Robert B. Parker

“Sherlock Holmes is a massive figure in people’s minds. More massive than a lot of real historical characters – these figures have real weight. They might be just made out of words and paper, but their effect in the world can be massive, if they’ve got the right kind of mass, the right kind of gravity and momentum.” – Alan Moore

Also on this day, in 1862 Louis Pasteur proved his pasteurization process making us all safer.

Look It Up

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 19, 2010

Murray and the OED

April 19, 1928: The last fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary [OED] is published. The OED was published in smaller pieces called fascicles – 125 of them. Each fascicle was anywhere from 64 to 352 pages long. Each new letter began with a new fascicle.

The latest version of the printed OED was published in 1989 with approximately 301,100 main entries, 157,000 combinations, and 169,000 phrases or 616,500 word-forms. There are over 350 million printed characters in the 21,730 pages. Thomas Browne is the most frequently quoted source for neologisms or new words. William Shakespeare is the author most often quoted and Hamlet is the most-quoted work. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) is the most frequently cited woman. The Bible is the most quoted collective work while Cursor Mundi (an anonymous Middle English religious poem) is the most-quoted single work.

This all started when the Philological Society of London became so dissatisfied with the current dictionaries they planned to compile their own dictionary. The leaders of this enterprise were Richard Chenevix Trench, Herbert Coleridge, and Frederick Furnivall.

Trent’s career didn’t leave him enough time to actually work on the project. Coleridge published his plan for the work on May 12, 1860. The first sample pages were published in April, 1861. Tragically, Coleridge died later that month at the age of 31. Furnivall took over the editorship, but didn’t have the temperament for the long-term project.

James Murray took over the editorship in the 1879. He moved to Oxford where the university agreed to finance the publishing of the book as well as pay Murray. On February 1, 1884 [24 years later] the first fascicle was published. Ten years later, 11 fascicles [up to and including the letter E] were published. Murray was editor until his death in 1915. Sixty-eight years after the start of the project, the 125th fascicle was published with the full dictionary in bound volumes following.

“If you have a big enough dictionary, just about everything is a word.”  –  Dave Barry

“Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.” – Noah Webster

“DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.” – Ambrose Bierce from Devil’s Dictionary

“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Also on this day, in 1943 Albert Hofmann experimented with LSD.

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The Great Quake

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 18, 2010

Toppled houses

April 18, 1906: At 5:12 AM an estimated 8.25 Richter scale earthquake hits San Francisco and lasts between 45 and 60 seconds. The quake ruptured the northernmost 296 miles of the San Andreas fault line causing 75% of the city to be destroyed either by the initial quake or the resulting fires.

It took three days for the fires to completely burn out. By that time 490 city blocks with 25,000 buildings were destroyed. About 250,000 people were left homeless. Without water to fight the blazes due to the damaged infrastructure, Army General Frederick Funston and civil authorities made one last ditch and disastrous effort. They elected to use dynamite to create firebreaks. However, when the request for explosives was received, gunpowder was sent instead of the dynamite. Rather than create firebreaks, the untrained but well-meaning firefighters spread the fire with the explosions.

View of the fires during the aftermath

Those able to escape the disaster, took what they could and fled the city. After days of chaos, the mayor, afraid of looters and the added destruction they were causing, ordered no arrests. Instead, he ordered that looters and others committing crimes were to be shot. The word went out and people believed that martial law was being called for. Some order returned. By April 21, the last of the fires was under control.

Then the assessment of the damage and the rebuilding started. Four days after the quake struck, 300 plumbers were at work fixing pipes and sewers. Within weeks, streetcars were running. Within six weeks, banks were open again. The cleanup was staggering; it was said that 6 ½ billion bricks had fallen into the streets. A new San Francisco arose from the ashes. Damage estimates were greater than $350 million or ≈ $9.4 billion in 2009 USD.

“The earthquake cleared out one San Francisco — which was the dominant place in California — and replaced it with another. It accelerated the modernization of California.” – Kevin Starr

“There were really two stages to the disaster. The earthquake was in itself enormous and San Francisco was badly damaged, but the greatest horror and chaos would soon follow in the form of the worst urban fire in American history.” – James Dalessandro

“Those who survived the San Francisco earthquake said, ‘Thank God, I’m still alive.’ But, of course, those who died, their lives will never be the same again.” – Barbara Boxer

“I was married once — in San Francisco. I haven’t seen her for many years. The great earthquake and fire in 1906 destroyed the marriage certificate. There’s no legal proof. Which proves that earthquakes aren’t all bad.” – W. C. Fields

Also on this day, in 1923 Yankee Stadium opened.

America’s Renaissance Man

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 17, 2010

Benjamin Franklin

April 17, 1790: Benjamin Franklin, printer, statesman, inventor, and scientist, dies. He was born on January 17, (January 6 in the old style calendar) 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children. He was the tenth and last Franklin son. His father was a tallow-maker and his mother was the senior Franklin’s second wife.

Franklin was forced to quit school at age ten and was apprenticed to his older brother by age twelve where he began to learn the printing trade. He fled his apprenticeship at age seventeen, becoming a fugitive, and ran to Philadelphia. In 1727, at the age of 21, Franklin created the Junto, a group of “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” Several other organizations sprang up around Philadelphia just like young Ben’s.

One of the great pastimes for Junto members was reading. However, books were scarce and expensive. Franklin set up a way to store books and lend them out, a library. The members pooled their books and monies (in order to buy new books), and joined in a subscription service in order to share them. By 1730, Franklin set up a printing house of his own and became the publisher of a newspaper. In 1731 the Library Company of Philadelphia was given it’s charter and Franklin hired the first American librarian in 1732, Louis Timothee.  In 1733 he began publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac.

He invented the lightening rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals, and a flexible urinary catheter. He studied electricity and refrigeration. He was a philosopher and political dissident. He played four stringed instruments. He was a central figure in the shaping of the American Revolution and secured much of the help from the French. He died at the advanced age of 84 weighing over 300 pounds at the time of his death, having said, “I guess I don’t so much mind being old, as I mind being fat and old.”

“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”

“Serving God is doing good to man, but praying is thought an easier service and therefore more generally chosen.”

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” – all from Benjamin Franklin

Also on this day, in 1973 FedEx began operations.

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Little Sure Shot

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 16, 2010

Little Miss Sure Shot, herself

April 16, 1922: Phoebe Mozee, or Moses, shoots 100 clay pigeons in a row from a distance of 16 yards at the age of 62. She was born to Quaker parents in Darke Country, Ohio in 1860 and was the fifth of seven children. When her father died and her mother remarried, she was sent to live in an orphanage. She had no formal schooling and later lived with a local family in near servitude where she was physically and mentally abused.

Phoebe became proficient with guns and could shoot with remarkable accuracy. She could shoot heads off running quail by the time she was twelve. She went to Cincinnati, Ohio when she was sixteen and bested Frank Butler, himself an accomplished marksman. In fact, he was so impressed with the backwoods girl, he eventually married her.

Phoebe was good with rifles, shotguns, and six-guns or pistols. The petite woman stood only five feet tall but her personally made her seem so much larger. She thrilled crowds at home and abroad. She once shot, with a .22 rifle, 4,472 out of 5,000 glass balls thrown into the air. She could hit playing cards that were thrown with the edge facing her. At 90 feet, she could hit a dime tossed in the air.

Phoebe and Frank toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for 17 years. Our heroine became famous worldwide for her skill with any kind of firearm. Chief Sitting Bull was so awed by her marksmanship, he dubbed her “Little Sure Shot.”  She toured Europe and even shot the ash from a cigarette held by Wilhelm, Crown Prince of Germany. She usually shot the ash from the cigarette as her husband held it between his lips, and the Crown Prince was willing to do this, but he only held it in his hand. She is best known by her middle name and a name she choose, seemingly from a place near her birth. We know her as Annie Oakley.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” – e.e. cummings

“Almost every man wastes part of his life in attempts to display qualities which he does not possess, and to gain applause which he cannot keep.” – Samuel Johnson

“Ability is of little account without opportunity.” – Napoleon

“If you are still talking about what you did yesterday, you haven’t done much today.” – unknown

Also on this day, in 1945 the refugee ship Goya was sunk in the Baltic Sea, killing thousands aboard.

Going for the Gold

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 15, 2010

1896 Athens Olympics

April 15, 1896: The first modern Olympic Games held in Athens, Greece comes to a successful conclusion after ten days of competition. The games first started in Ancient Greece with written records of them dating from 776 BC. Participants for the Ancient Olympic Games were free men who spoke Greek. The games were pseudo-international as men from many city-states and even Greek colonies competed against each other. There was also an upper age limit enforced, reserving the games for young men only. As with the Modern Olympics, there were only a few games (foot races) at first but as time went on, a wide range of competitions were added. They lasted for about 1,200 years until 393 AD when Theodosius I, a Roman emperor, abolished them.

Pierre de Coubertin, a Frenchman, wished to revive the games. He started his campaign in 1890 without much success. He was undaunted and kept trying. By 1894, with continued effort, 79 men from 9 countries voted to begin the Olympic Games and the International Olympic Committee [IOC] was formed. Greece was selected as the first venue.

The Greek government did not have the funding or the time to build an arena. Instead, Georgios Averoff, a weathly Greek architect, donated money to restore the Panathenaic Stadium, built in 330 BC for the games. The event was not well publicized worldwide and participants came individually and at their own expense. About 300 athletes from 13 countries participated in pole vaulting, sprints, shot put, weight lifting, swimming, cycling, target shooting, tennis, marathon, and gymnastics. Only first and second places were awarded with distinction receiving a silver and bronze medal respectively.

By 1900, with the games held in Paris – all venues were now awarded to cities rather than countries – gold medals were added and women athletes were included in the events. The Olympic flag was introduced in 1914; Winter Olympics started in 1924. The Olympic flame, a practice in the ancient games, was resurrected in 1928. The sporting events included and excluded in the games has been varied over the history of the modern Olympics.

“It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.” – Herb Elliott

“An Olympic medal is the greatest achievement and honour that can be received by an athlete. I would swap any World Title to have won gold at the Olympics.” – Jeff French

“For too long the world has failed to recognise that the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement are about fine athletics and fine art.” – Avery Brundage IOC President 1952 – 1972

“The important thing in life is not victory but combat; it is not to have vanquished but to have fought well.” – Pierre de Coubertin

Also on this day, in 1924 Rand McNally published the forerunner to today’s road atlas.

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“I’m the King of the World!”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 14, 2010

RMS Titanic

April 14, 1912: RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg at 11:40 PM. It was a Sunday night and the temperatures were close to freezing. The seas were calm. There was a clear sky but the moon was no out. Days before Captain Smith altered course to avoid reported icebergs. Earlier on this day, the steamer Amerika had warned of large icebergs in the path of the luxury ship. A second ship, Mesaba, also warned of numerous large icebergs in the path. Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were manning the wireless radio and paid to deliver messages to and from the passengers. They were not concerned with these “non-essential” messages and did not relay them to the bridge. Two hours and forty minutes after striking the berg, at 2:20 AM she sunk – 1,523 people died.

The Titanic was one of three luxury ships built by the White Star Line – all of which met with ignominious ends. She was 882.5 ft long and 92.5 ft at the beam. Gross tonnage was 46,328. She majestically rose up 175 feet, from keel to the top of the funnels. She was unsurpassed in luxury at the time. The forward first-class grand staircase was the coup de grace on this opulent ship.

On April 10 the ship left Southampton, England making two more stops before finally crossing the Atlantic for New York. Cherbourg, France was the first stop and Queensland [now Cobh], Ireland was the second. The final tally for people on board during the crossing was 2,223. The ship had a total of 840 staterooms, 416 if them First Class. If she had been fully loaded with passengers and crew the ship would have been moving 3,547 people.

Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee spotted a large iceberg directly ahead of the racing liner. They rang the ship’s bell three times and telephoned the bridge, yelling “Iceberg, right ahead!” The ship was immediately turned hard to the left and the engines were reversed. An impact was inevitable. So, south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland she struck an iceberg. Lifeboats could have held 1,178 people if properly filled and lowered. There were not enough boats available because double hanging them would have ruined the look of the elegant ship. Only 700 people survived that freezing night at sea. At 4:10 AM the RMS Carpathia picked up the first lifeboat passengers.

“Professionals built the Titanic, amateurs the ark.” – Frank Pepper

“When you have a population that is immobile, no matter how you plead for them to leave no matter how early you get a start they can’t leave! It’s like the Titanic is sinking. They couldn’t just say, ‘Everyone off!’ There’s no place to go. You’re stuck!” – Jeremy Davenport

“Just think of all those women on the Titanic who said, ‘No, thank you,’ to dessert that night. And for what!” – Erma Bombeck

“When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident… or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.” – E. J. Smith, Captain, RMS Titanic in 1907

Also on this day, in 1846 the Donner Party set off from Springfield, Illinois to meet their doom.

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Houston, We Have a Problem

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 13, 2010

The crew of Apollo 13

April 13, 1970: There is an explosion on board Apollo 13 while they are more than 200,000 nautical miles from home. The mission, commanded by Captain James Lovell, had problems even before liftoff. An oxygen tank had been used in a previous craft and was found to be substandard, removed, repaired, and then reinstalled in Apollo 13. It did not test perfectly prior to liftoff, but was not removed.

The Apollo mission was to have been the third manned lunar landing. On April 11, five-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, there was a vibration that should not have been there. Rockets did not fire properly.

The mission was aborted after a rupture of a service module oxygen tank – the same tank that had not worked properly pre-flight. At 55 hours, 55 minutes into the flight, the tank blew and warning lights indicated loss from the three fuel cells, the primary source of electricity on the spacecraft. Thirteen minutes after the explosion, Lovell reported seeing a gas venting from the ship – the rest of the oxygen.

With the loss of power and oxygen so far from home, the best chance of survival for the three astronauts was to leave the main cabin and lock themselves into the Lunar Module [LM]. They tried. The hatch would not seal. With only fifteen minutes of power left, they got into the LM, checked supplies and reserves, and jettisoned from the Command Module. Water, also a precious commodity, was scheduled to run out before any successful landing could be made.

A new course had to be calculated and uploaded to the stranded men. Then they had to accomplish course corrections with a machine not built for the task. With the work of hundreds of people on the ground and the tenacity of Captain Lovell and his crew, John Swigert and Fred Haise, the spacecraft returned safely to Earth on April 17, 1970.

“Given that the movie had to condense four days into two hours, and given that the communications were sometimes rather tedious and technical, it was pretty accurate, … Apollo 13.” – Fred Haise

Jim Lovell: Well, Deke; if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been killed in that thing, I wouldn’t have to work for you. We’ll get it together by launch time. – From Apollo 13, the movie after the crew has been “killed” in a simulator accident.

“Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft, and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor.” – Werner von Braun

“The flight controllers, the people who manned the trenches in mission control, these were kids. They were in their 20s and 30s. And they were controlling a moon mission.” – Andrew Chaikin

Also on this day, in 1829 Roman Catholics were granted freedom of religion in England.

Jerry Did Good

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 12, 2010

Jerry Yang and David Filo of Yahoo! fame

April 12, 1996: “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” goes public for the first time. The Initial Public Offering [IPO] sold shares for $13 at the beginning of the day, peaking at $43, and closing at $33, raising $33.8 million. The website was started in January 1994 while its creators were students at Stanford University and was incorporated on March 2, 1995. Their hobby blossomed while they worked out of a trailer. Their lists of favorite sites on the Internet became too large, too long, too complicated. They set up categories, then subcategories and then, became their new business.

You say you’ve never heard of this? Sure you have. The founders, David Filo and Jerry Yang changed the name to a backronym [acronyms that are created to form the letters for a word that one already has in mind] for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle. Or Yahoo! The two men insist they picked the name because it means “rude, unsophisticated, uncouth.”

Yang was born in Taiwan and came to the US when he was eight, knowing only one word in English – shoe. He went on to earn BS and MS degrees from Stanford University. He was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. His degrees are in electrical engineering. Filo was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Louisiana. His BS degree is from Tulane University. He parlayed his computer engineering degree into a MS from Stanford. Both men are currently on leave from Yahoo! (although both remain Chief Yahoos!) and are working towards their PhDs in electrical engineering. Both are students at Stanford.

At its IPO, there were a total of 49 employees working for Yahoo! Today there is a global network which includes 25 world properties and serves 345 million individuals each month. Yahoo! is a portal, an email service, instant messaging service, message boards, chats, news service, games, shopping, search engine, and Yahoo! groups. Ten years later, they claim they are the number one Internet brand and reach the largest audience worldwide.

“The internet is not for sissies.” – Paul Vixie

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” – Mitchell Kapor

“It’s been my policy to view the Internet not as an ‘information highway,’ but as an electronic asylum filled with babbling loonies.” – Mike Royko

“What, exactly, is the Internet?  Basically it is a global network exchanging digitized data in such a way that any computer, anywhere, that is equipped with a device called a “modem” can make a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo.” – Dave Barry

Also on this day, in 1955 Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was approved.

Coming to America

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 11, 2010

Ellis Island in 1902

April 11, 1890: Ellis Island is named as the new national immigration center. Before this time, each state regulated immigration. For New York state, that site was Castle Garden in the Battery, a.k.a. Castle Clinton. Between 1855 and 1890, about 8 million immigrants were processed through Castle Garden, coming mostly from northern and western Europe.

Ellis Island is located in New York Harbor and served as a military fortification prior to becoming an immigration site. Originally only 3.3 acres in size, it has been increased to 27.5 acres by landfills obtained from ship ballast and earth from the construction of the NYC subway system.

By January 1, 1892, the Main Building was ready for processing those who wished to enter into the American Dream. Annie Moore, a 15-year-old Irish girl was the first to be processed. On June 14, 1897 the building burned completely to the ground, amazingly without loss of life. The Main Building was rebuilt and opened on December 17, 1900 with 2,251 people received on that date.

For the 62 years that Ellis Island was a working immigration center, more than 12 million people were allowed into the country through this port of entry. Although the place was also known as the “Island of Tears,” most people were treated with dignity and respect. The highest number of people entering the US via Ellis Island was in the year 1907 when 1.25 million people entered the US and were processed through. Ellis Island closed – as an immigration point – in 1954. Today it is a tourist stop located in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty with almost 2 million visitors annually. It is part of the National Park Service of the US Department of the Interior.

“Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“It was this society and culture that among other things – including economic opportunities here and repression in Europe – attracted subsequent generations of immigrants to this country.” – Samuel P. Huntington

“No, my family is Russian, Georgian, via Ellis Island.” – Mitch Kapor

“Ellis Island is for the people who came over on ships. My people came in chains.” – David N. Dinkins

Also on this day, in 1968 President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.