Little Bits of History

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 18, 2010

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I

September 17, 1859: Joshua Abraham Norton, born in England, raised in South Africa, and immigrated to San Francisco, declares himself Emperor Norton I of the US. Norton came to San Francisco in 1849 with $40,000 – a bequest from his father. He was successful in the real estate market and had a fortune worth $250,000 by 1853.

China experienced a famine and would no longer export rice. Rice in the San Francisco area went from 4¢ to 36¢ per pound and Norton thought he would corner the rice market. He heard of a ship coming from Peru loaded with rice. He decided to purchase the tons of rice. Unfortunately, this was only the first of many ships coming from Peru loaded with rice. Norton and his financial partners fought through the legal system with Norton eventually losing the battle. He declared bankruptcy in 1858 and left the city for some time.

He returned a different person and declared himself Emperor of the US and the Protector of Mexico. He had no political power, but was treated deferentially by locals. He printed his own currency which was accepted by local merchants. When he tried to cash this currency at a bank, they refused and he issued a proclamation foreclosing on their business. He issued many proclamations over the years. He demanded political appointments be changed. He ordered a bridge to be built across the bay. He even proclaimed that the word “Frisco” be banned.

Many of the proclamations attributed to him were actually published by newspapers to make their own points. Even so, about fifteen have been authenticated. On January 21, 1867, he was arrested by a rookie policeman who thought he should be in a mental institution. The Police Chief apologized to “His Majesty.” In the 1870 census, Norton’s occupation was listed as “emperor.” Emperor Norton I dropped dead of “apoplexy” on January 8, 1880 while walking along California Street on the way to give a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Over 10,000 people turned out for his funeral.

“At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States. – Joshua A. Norton, September 17, 1859

“The insane are but grown up children, children too, who have received false notions, and a wrong direction.” – Jean Esquirol

“Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to the insane world.” – R. D. Laing

“The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” – G. K. Chesterton

Also on this day, in 1930 construction began on Boulder (Hoover) Dam.

It’s Not Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 18, 2010

The Metropolitan Opera House

September 16, 1966: The New Metropolitan Opera House opens as part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts with the presentation of Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra. The Metropolitan Opera has been in business since October 22, 1883 when Gounod’s Faust was presented. The first opera house was located on Broadway in the Manhattan district of New York City.

The Metropolitan Opera House of 1883 was built by a group of NYC industrialists to compete with the Academy of Music. Some of the original investors were the Vanderbilts, Morgans, and Astors who owned the “old” Met and kept box seats for their use. They rented out the building to an impresario or entertainment group who then produced the operas that were presented to the public. By 1933, the Metropolitan Opera Association was formed as a non-profit opera presenter. They purchased the opera house in 1940.

As far back as the turn of the century, the original building was considered too small for the company. However, financial concerns kept The Met where it was. Finally, the new Met was opened with 4,000 seats at Lincoln Center. The Proscenium, the archway over the front of the stage, measures 54 feet wide by 54 feet high. The main stage is 103 x 90 feet which is very similar to the old Met. However, there are additional side and rear stages that create an area that is six times greater than the old theater.

Twenty-nine operas have had their world premier at The Met, including Antony and Cleopatra. The three most frequently performed operas are La Boheme, Aida, and Carmen, in that order. Each year, more than 800,000 people attend performances while millions more experience the grandeur via radio and television.

“Every afternoon I listened to the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts and when I was four, I told my mother and father that it was my destiny to sing there, that I was going to sing at the Metropolitan Opera of New York City.” – Dixie Carter

“[Even the warhorses have been exercised. Five years ago, McKenzie came out with a new staging of Swan Lake that] whipped the audience at the Metropolitan Opera House into a frenzied ovation, … a ballet for both the tired critic and the tired businessman.” – Anna Kisselgoff

“An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house.” – Maria Callas

“Opera stars know that biology is destiny. Sometime in their 50s or early 60s, the powerful, flexible and ultimately mysterious instrument that has been the source of their artistry frays, cracks and disappears.” – Michael Walsh

Also on this day, in 1976 Shavarsh Karapetyan saved twenty people from drowning.

I Feel the Need for Speed

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2010

1910 Bugatti

September 15, 1881: Ettore Bugatti is born into an artistic family in Milan, Italy. His father was a furniture and jewelry designer in the Art Nouveau style while his younger brother was a sculptor. Ettore designed cars. Fast cars. Racing cars.

Before he founded his own automobile manufacturing company, Ettore designed engines and chassis for others. Although Italian by birth, Bugatti opened his eponymous car company in 1910 in Mosheim in the Alsace region – now part of France. Bugatti designed the engines and chassis of some of the world’s finest racing cars as well as sleek street machines. His car was the first ever to win the Monaco Grand Prix.

During World War I, Bugatti developed many airplane engine concepts for France. In 1921 at the Voiturettes Grand Prix race in Brescia, Bugatti’s cars took first, second, third, and fourth place. In 1927, Bugatti built the “Royale” which was the most expensive automobile of all time. He sold three. His son was killed in 1939 at the age of 30 while testing a Type 57 race car. This disaster along with the onset of World War II caused the company’s decline.

By the end of the war, Bugatti was out of business. The company has been resurrected twice since that time. In the mid-1950s, Roland Bugatti, Ettore’s son, tried to resurrect the company but even with help from Ferrari’s designer Gioacchino Colombo, the effort was futile. In 1998, the Volkswagen Concern purchased the Bugatti trademark rights. The cars are sleek, beautiful, fast, and expensive. You can buy one for around €1,160,000.

“The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it.” – Dudley Moore

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” – Albert Einstein

“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.” – Unknown

“Walking isn’t a lost art – one must, by some means, get to the garage.” – Evan Esar

Also on this day, in 1916 tanks were first used in battle.

Tagged with: ,

Fort McHenry

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 15, 2010

Fort McHenry

September 14, 1814: A young lawyer publishes his poem Defense of Fort McHenry after witnessing a battle during the War of 1812. He lived in Georgetown, just west of the site of today’s Key Bridge that crosses the Potomac River. At the time, Georgetown had a population of about 5,000 and was just a few miles from the Capitol, the White House, and the Federal building of Washington, D.C.

Britain was at war with France and while engaged thus, attempted to regulate American shipping and trade activity. The new American nation did not obey the mandate from the old Mother Country and the War of 1812 began. On August 24, 1814, British forces set fire to the Capitol and the White House with flames visible as far away as Baltimore. A dawn thunderstorm kept the fire from spreading. More fires were set during the following day, another thunderstorm put out the flames.

As America was preparing to repel an attack on Baltimore that they expected to come from both land and sea, Dr. William Beanes had been captured and was being held prisoner on the British flag ship. The lawyer and US Col. John Skinner boarded the ship soon after in an effort to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Rather than release the doctor, the lawyer and colonel were held as well because they may have seen too much on the ship.

Fort McHenry was attacked. In the year prior to this, a special flag had been made for the fort. It measured 42 x 30 feet, took 400 yards of the finest wool bunting to create and each of the fifteen stars were 2 feet wide. After a night of horrific bombardment, dawn broke and amazingly the flag remained flying over the fort. The lawyer was so overcome, he penned his poem on the back of a letter. It has since been renamed and put to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven. The poem is Francis Scott Key’s work and known today as The Star Spangled Banner.

“The whole inspiration of our life as a nation flows out from the waving folds of this banner.” – Unknown

“That piece of red, white and blue bunting means five thousand years of struggle upwards. It is the full-grown flower of ages of fighting for liberty. It is the century plant of human hope in bloom.” – Alvin Owsley

“We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity, representing our liberty.” – George Washington, attributed

“Cheers for the sailors that fought on the wave for it,
Cheers for the soldiers that always were brave for it,
Tears for the men that went down to the grave for it,
Here comes the flag!” – Arthur Macy

Also on this day, in 1607 the Flight of the Earls of Ireland takes place.

Tagged with: ,

It’s Hot, Hot, Hot

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 13, 2010

Hot, really hot

September 13, 1922: The highest temperature in the shade is recorded in El Azizia, Libya. The temperature hit 136.4º F or 58º C The African village lies just 25 miles south of Tripoli, the capital of Libya. It is just a few miles south of the Mediterranean Sea.

The highest temperature in North America was in the US and recorded at Death Valley, California on July 10, 1913 where it reached 134º F. The Asian continent tops out with a temp of 129º F at Tirat Tsvi, Israel on June 21, 1942. Australia reached 128º F on January 16, 1889. Seville, Spain is Europe’s hot spot reaching 122º F on August 4, 1881. Argentina has the record for South America where it reached 120º F at Rivadiavia on December 11, 1905. Even in Antarctica it reached a blistering 59º F at Vanda Station, Scott Coast on January 5, 1974.

All these high temperatures are from long ago and not associated with today’s issue of global warming. The global warming problem is not based on place temperatures, but averages taken globally. Records have been kept only since 1880 and temperatures from earlier times are deduced by scientific methods. January, April, September, and October of 2005 were the hottest on record while three more months were the second hottest. The average global temperature was 58.6º F in 2005. The second warmest year was 1998 at 58.5º F.

There are several reasons for increased temperature. The amount of carbon dioxide is frequently cited. There is also the deforestation of the planet. In just a fifteen year period, 1990-2005, the world lost more than 3% of her total forestation. About 1.4 billion hectares of forest remain today with an annual loss of about 6 million hectares.

“Every day we have some weather, and yesterday was no exception.” – John Carr

“[The] Earth is a single huge organism intentionally creating an optimum environment for itself.” – Richard A. Kerr

“I believe more and more that God must not be judged on this earth. It is one of His sketches that has turned out badly.” – Vincent van Gogh

“Man masters nature not by force but by understanding.” – Jacob Bronowsky

Also on this day, in 1985 Super Mario Bros. was released in Japan.

Tagged with: ,


Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 12, 2010

September 12, 1940: Four boys go spelunking at Lascaux, France and find amazing pre-historic drawings on the walls of the caves. The drawings on the caves have been dated to between 13,000 to 15,000 BC and possibly are as old as 25,000 BC.

Sample of Lascaux cave painting

There are three basic themes to the art work – animals, humans, and signs. There is no scenery, no vegetation, no landscapes. One wall shows what can be interpreted as a narrative. There is a man with the face of a bird, or wearing a mask, who is being gored by a wounded bison. He is falling backwards, presumably to his death. Surrounding this tableau are patterns of dots, a rhino, and a stick with a bird on top. Interpretation of the art is not possible. We can guess, but we will never know what the story is trying to tell us or the artists’ peers.

The artists of the time used perspective, distorting animals drawn high up the walls so that they would appear correctly from the ground. They also must have had some scaffolding to paint that high. Lighting the deep caverns was accomplished by hollowing part of a flat rock, filling it with some type of animal fat or tallow, and using it as a torch. Creating pigments from natural substances gave the artwork another layer of technical acumen. Pigments dropped to the ground while painting and these are what has been used in order to date the works.

After World War II, the caves were more easily accessible. By 1955, the carbon dioxide produced by 1,200 visitors per day was destroying the caves. They were closed to the public in 1963 with a replica built. This replica can be toured. Creating the second site gave scientists opportunities to recreate the experiences of the previous artists, creating the pigments, using perspective, and becoming forgers of the oldest art on earth.

“We have invented nothing.” – Pablo Picasso, exiting the caves

“Lots of the wild animals in the caves have spears in them and blood coming out of their mouths and everything that a hunter would be familiar with. These were the Ferraris and football games of their time. They painted what was on their minds.” – Dale Guthrie

“Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.” Daniel Barenboim

“All great art … creates in the beholder not self-satisfaction but wonder and awe. Its great liberation is to lift us out of ourselves.” – Dorothy Thompson

Also on this day, in 1846 Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning elope.

Tagged with: ,

There She Is, Miss America

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 11, 2010

Lee Ann Meriwether as Miss America

September 11, 1954: Miss America, the oldest beauty pageant in the US, is first televised with Grace Kelly as one of the judges and Bess Myerson reporting backstage. Lee Ann Meriwether was crowned the winner in front of 27 million viewers.

The pageant originated in Atlantic City in 1921 and was renamed as Miss America in 1922 with Margaret Gorman, 16, winning. It was originally a beauty competition with the women wearing bathing suits as the main event. The talent competition was added in 1935. Starting in 1950, the title reflected the following year, so there is no Miss America of 1950, but instead it skipped from 1949 to 1951.

Interest in the competition peaked in the 1960s with Miss America being regarded at the time as the female equivelent of the President. With the rise of feminism and civil rights, audience ratings fell each year. African-Americans and professional women were included in the competition in the 1970s while Bert Parks, the emcee from 1955-79, was dismissed in the hopes that a younger host would improve ratings.

Today’s pageant has four competitions: interview, talent, swimsuit, and evening gown. Originally, all contestants wore identical swimsuits; today they are given more leeway to choose the type of suit to wear, but standards are set by the organization. Mississippi is the only state to have two winners in a row. California and Ohio tie for the most winners with six from each state. Twenty-one states have never had a winner.

“There are women who are not beautiful but only look that way.” – Karl Kraus

“It has been said that a pretty face is a passport. But it’s not, it’s a visa, and it runs out fast.” – Julie Burchill

“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless, peacocks and lilies for instance.” – John Ruskin

“As much as I like the Miss America tradition, it too is part of a bygone era. Reality TV shows have taken over, and Miss America is so old-fashioned.” – David Phillips

Also on this day, in 1903 the first race was held at the Milwaukee Mile.

Tagged with: ,

Close Your Eyes; Touch Your Nose

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 11, 2010

Field sobriety test

September 10, 1897: British police pull George Smith over after he is found swerving all over the road and give him the first citation for driving while intoxicated. Driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, driving while impaired, drink-driving, or drunk driving has been a problem ever since.

There were no breathalyzer tests in 1897. Judgment of impairment was based on other factors: primarily the out of control car and secondarily the smell of alcohol. Today’s field sobriety tests are supplemented by technology that permits for Blood Alcohol Concentration [BAC] tests. Breathalyzers do not measure blood alcohol levels and the machines assume certain criteria. Diabetics can get false readings. It is assumed that one has a hematocrit [a component of blood counts] of 47% which is at the high end of normal for women. Both of the preceding can raise readings. Hyperventilating can lower readings.

Most countries have a legal limit for the BAC for all drivers. There are laws that punish violators with fines, jail time, or both. Even so, thousands die each year in alcohol-related crashes. In 2003 in the US alone, 17,013 people died and more than 500,000 were injured in alcohol related crashes. More than $1 billion in property damage is due to DWI offenses annually.

MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Drivers] was established in the US in 1980 while CADD [Campaign Against Drinking and Driving] was set up in 1985 in the UK. Both groups’ goal is to familiarize drivers with the dangers of impaired driving, rights of victims, and ways to stay safe on the road.

“If you must drink and drive, drink Pepsi.” – unknown

“I think, frankly, it’s more of a cultural change than it is an enforcement issue, … Over time, the newer generation of drivers, as they’re coming on, it will just be standard practice for them that it’s not OK to drink and drive.” – Mike McGrath

“If you drink, don’t drive. Don’t even putt.” – Dean Martin

“The message is simple – You Drink and Drive, You Lose, … We encourage anyone planning on drinking alcohol to be responsible and designate a sober driver. With checkpoints, roving patrols, undercover officers and concerned citizens, chances are if you drive impaired this holiday, you will be arrested.” – Roger Baird

Also on this day, in 1846 Elias Howe was granted a patent for a sewing machine.

Tagged with: ,

Stop Bugging Me

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 11, 2010

September 9, 1947: The “first actual case of [a computer] bug being found” is the entry placed at 1545 or 3:45 PM in the log book for the Mark II computer at Harvard University. A moth was found in a relay, extracted, and taped into the log book with the account.

Actual log entry

Thomas Edison wrote in a letter dated 1878: “Bugs – as such little faults and difficulties are called.” The term “bug” as a problem in a technological sense had already been around before Edison wrote of it. During World War II “bugs” were glitches in the radar electronic systems. The term is sometimes attributed to Grace Hopper, a retired Navy officer. Hopper had been working with the Mark II at Harvard, and although she is not the person who discovered the bug, she was delighted by the story and repeated it often.

Computer programming can lead to the creation of bugs due to simple oversight or carelessness. Sometimes a bug is produced by the interaction between different parts of the computer program. Programs are complex and usually written by a team of programmers. Bugs are euphemistically referred to as “unplanned, unexpected, or undocumented features.”

Bugs existed in computer programs as they did in other technologies that pre-date computers. What the Harvard group under Grace Hopper coined for us was the term “debugging” a program. This is the painful and time-consuming process of cleaning up the source code to eliminate errors.

“Any man is liable to err, but only a fool persists in error.” – Cicero

“To err is human, to really foul things up takea a computer.” – unknown

“It takes less time to do a thing right than it does to explain why you did it wrong.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” – Orlando A. Battista

Also on this day, in 1965 Hurricane Betsy made landfall for a second time and became the first billion dollar hurrican in the US.

Tagged with: ,

Something in the Water

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 11, 2010

Dr. John Snow

September 8, 1854: Dr. John Snow removes the handle from the Broad Street water pump in London, England, suspecting this water station as the source for spreading cholera through a portion of the city. Cholera is a potentially deadly disease transmitted by feces contaminated water causing profuse diarrhea and dehydration.

Snow was already a successful anesthetist when the outbreak of cholera in 1854 caused nearly 500 deaths in a ten-day period. He studied the pattern of illness and traced the suspected source to Broad Street. This was problematic for two reasons, first he had to identify a source and second, he had to proscribe to the germ theory of disease rather than the predominantly accepted miasma theory.

The water source for the pump was later tested and found to be contaminated with raw sewage from a leaking cesspool. Within days of removing the pump handle new cases of cholera ceased. He is known as the father of epidemiology or the study of factors causing illness in populations or individuals, that is – public health.

Today there is The John Snow Society, memorializing his efforts, with over 1,000 members worldwide. The only requirement for joining is visiting the John Snow Pub located at the site of the original pump. This is interesting since Snow was a teetotaler. His study of anesthetic agents broadened the use of chloroform and ether in surgery, he was a proponent of germ theory and encouraged hygienic conditions, and he pioneered public health. All this to his credit and he died at the age of 45 after suffering a stroke.

“It is more important to know what kind of patient has the disease than what kind of disease the patient has.” – Sir William Osler

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – unknown

“We forget ourselves and our destinies in health, and the chief use of temporary sickness is to remind us of these concerns.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Health is the first of all liberties.” – Henri Amiel

Also on this day, in 1921 Margaret Gorman becomes the first Miss America.

Tagged with: ,