Little Bits of History

Love Bug

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 31, 2011

Treponema pallidum - the helix organism causing syphilis

January 31, 1747: The London Lock Hospital opens for business as the first venereal disease clinic, it was developed to treat syphilis. A charitable society was formed in July of the previous year and in November, they purchased a house at Grosvenor Place, near Hyde Park Corner in London. The founder, William Bromfield, was able to have the clinic opened the following year and within that first year, almost 300 people were treated. Unsuccessfully, because at the time, syphilis was incurable.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by Treponema pallidum, a spirochete bacterium.  It is called the “Great Imitator” because the symptoms are the same as in other diseases and it was often misdiagnosed. The only definitive diagnosis for syphilis is made via a blood test and the only true cure is an antibiotic. Penicillin, the first antibiotic, was discovered circa 1928 and didn’t come to market until the 1940s.

The simple fact that the disease could not be cured did not in any way diminish the treatment plans. There were herbal treatments that at least caused no harm. The most common treatment for the disease was to give the patient mercury, itself a toxic substance. Mercury was given by mouth, rubbed into the skin, or turned into a gas while the patient lay in an enclosed, hot box. It was found that high fevers made the symptoms disappear, so patients were intentionally given malaria, which after allowed to run its course for a time, was then treated with quinine.

Widespread outbreaks of the disease in Europe were first written about in 1495. Some claim that Columbus brought the disease back with him. Others claim that evidence exists that syphilis was always in Europe and that relaxed morality and greater mobility was the reason for the spread of the disease. Alfred Crosby postulates that syphilis is a form of Yaws disease, similar to tuberculosis. He claims that Yaws was transmitted to the New World at an earlier time and evolved there as syphilis and was then brought back by the men aboard Columbus’s trio of ships. Many famous and infamous people have been linked with the disease: popes, kings and queens, artists, authors, musicians, and philosophers as well as a chess master and a master criminal.

“Nature [is] that lovely lady to whom we owe polio, leprosy, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, cancer.” – unknown

“It is unthinkable for a Frenchman to arrive at middle age without having syphilis and the Cross of the Legion of Honor.” – Andre Gide

“Even diseases have lost their prestige, there aren’t so many of them left. Think it over… no more syphilis, no more clap, no more typhoid… antibiotics have taken half the tragedy out of medicine.” – Louis Ferdinand Celine

“But when I go really far back in time, to the days when everyone was dying of cholera and syphilis and bubonic plague, I want nothing to do with those periods. I mean, nobody showered. That’s why perfume became such a popular item.” – Matt Dillon

Also on this day:
Sticking to Business – In 1930, 3M marketed Scotch tape.
Van Allen Belts – In 1958, Explorer I launched.

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Assassination attempt

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 30, 2011

1835 etching made of the assassination attempt

January 30, 1835: The first assassination attempt of a US President, Andrew Jackson. He was approached by a house painter named Richard Lawrence. It is thought that the chemicals in the house paint may have led to Lawrence’s delusions. By the 1830s he had convinced himself he was truly Richard III of England. During this same time, he underwent a personality shift, changing from a conservatively dressed man to one donning flamboyant clothing. He also grew a mustache, gave up his job, and demanded the US government pay him large sums of money. He felt the President was keeping him from getting his money. He also blamed Jackson for killing his father in 1832 even though Lawrence senior died nine years earlier. He decided to kill Jackson.

Lawrence bought two flintlock pistols. He watched Jackson’s movements for several weeks. During this time, Lawrence was observed repeatedly in the same paint shop, laughing and talking to himself. On this day, Jackson was attending the funeral of South Carolina congressman Walter R. Davis. Lawrence hoped to kill the President as he entered the service, but was unable to get close enough. Lawrence waited by a pillar and after the service, approached Jackson as he was leaving. Lawrence fired first one pistol from a distance of about 13 feet aiming at Jackson’s back. It misfired. Lawrence got to point blank range and fired again. The second pistol also misfired.

While the guns Lawrence had chosen were noted for problems in wet weather, and it was a very damp day, they still made enough noise to catch the crowd’s attention. Lawrence was wrestled to the ground by those around. Congressman Davy Crockett was one of those subduing the would-be assassin. It is said Jackson also struck the man several times, using his cane. Lawrence was brought to trial on April 11, 1835 with prosecuting attorney Francis Scott Key bringing the state’s case. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Government Hospital until his death in 1861.

Four US Presidents have been assassinated. Abraham Lincoln was the first, followed by James A. Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. There have been thirteen attempts or threats to assassinate presidents from Jackson to Barack Obama. Two attempts were made on Gerald Ford’s life. Ronald Reagan was shot on March 31, 1981 and survived. There is speculation that both Zachary Taylor and Warren G. Harding did not die of natural causes, but that their deaths were assassinations. Neither of these cases have been proven.

“An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.” – Voltaire

“Assassination has never changed the history of the world.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.” – George Bernard Shaw

“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.” – Robert M. Hutchins

Also on this day:
“Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall’s” – In 1922, Dick Martin was born.
Andrew Jackson – In 1835, the first Presidential assassination attempt was made. (A different article)

“Nevermore!”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 29, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe

January 29, 1845: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe reaches print for the first time in the New York Evening Mirror. Poe was a poet, a short story writer who dabbled in science fiction and virtually created the detective and crime fiction genres, an editor, and a critic of other’s work. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, USA in 1809, his father abandoned the family in 1810, and his mother died of tuberculosis in 1811. John Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Virginia, took Poe in.

The Raven is a beautifully worded, musically cadenced, narrative poem told in an eerie and dark manor. The narrator, a man who has lost his love, Lenore, is visited by the black bird that sits above the door speaking only one word – nevermore. The bird watches and exacerbates the man’s slow and irrevocable descent into madness.

Many of Poe’s poems are a study in guilt or “perverseness.” This is not the guilt associated with law or morals. It isn’t based on right or wrong. It is the guilt that, in Poe’s words, speaks to “the human thirst for self-torture.” The narrator continually asks the bird questions that would best be served by a positive answer while knowing full well that the only response is the negative, “Nevermore!” The poem illustrates the man’s physical terror and describes the psychological torture of the doomed.

In his essay “Philosophy of Composition” Poe explains that self-destruction and self-induced anguish already exist in the heart of his protagonists. The death of beautiful women, left unexplained as to cause, is the most poetic of all topics, according to Poe. In this poem, as in many others, we are not told the cause of Lenore’s death because to Poe it made no difference. Beauty has died. The torture remains. The man must choose between the pain of remembrance and the pain of forgetting. When will the anguish end? Nevermore.

“Leave my loneliness unbroken!- quit the bust above my door! / Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door! / Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.’” – from the poem, The Raven

“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”

“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.”

“Science has not yet taught us if madness is or is not the sublimity of the intelligence.” – all from Edgar Allan Poe

Also on this day:
Oh, No – O-Three – In 1978, Sweden became the first nation to ban certain aerosols to protect the ozone layer.
Victoria Cross – In 1856, Queen Victoria established the Victoria Cross.

 

Lighting the Night

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 28, 2011

London street, lit by gas lights

January 28, 1807: The first street is lit by gas light. Pall Mall is in the City of Westminster, London. Pall Mall East continues into Trafalgar Square. The name is derived from a mallet-and-ball game that was played there during the 1600s. It is home to various gentlemen’s clubs built there in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was once the center of the fine arts in London, as well. Most of the southern side of the street is held by the Crown with St. James’s Palace, Marlborough House, and the Prince Regent’s Carlton House all located on the street. It was also home to the War Office.

Lighting the streets at night has a history running back to at least 1417 when Sir Henry Barton, Mayor of London, ordered lanterns to be hung during the winter nights between Hallowtide and Candlemasse. Paris first lit the streets in 1524 and in some places, residents were ordered to keep candles lit in their windows to help illuminate winter darkened roads. London made a law in 1716 making it mandatory that all houses facing any street, lane, or passage, hang out a lantern every dark night from six to eleven, or be fined one shilling.

Coal mining proved to have a side effect. Gases were noted, some called “choke damp” and another type labeled “fire damp.” It was noted by experimenters that this gas could support combustion. Dr. Stephen Hales was the first to make a liquid from the distillation of coal with a byproduct of coal-gas and published his findings in 1726. By 1735, by accident, Dr. John Clayton found the coal-gas to be flammable as it came into contact with his candle.

William Murdoch used this flammable gas for lighting purposes in the early 1790s. He first lit his own house using this new gas in 1792. By 1798, he was lighting the main building of the Soho Foundry where he worked. In 1802, he and his partners gave a demonstration of this technique out of doors. Samuel Clegg saw the business opportunity and set up his own business, the Gas Lighting and Coke Company. This day showed the first public demonstration of the technique in London. Soon, Parliament granted Gas Lighting a charter and they became the first gas company in the world. The artificial lighting spread first across England and then moved to the rest of the world.

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” – Ben Sweetland

“Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space.  It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe.  It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.” – Michael Strassfeld

“You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” – Arlo Guthrie

“Dare to reach out your hand into the darkness, to pull another hand into the light.” – Norman B. Rice

Also on this day:
Beautiful Snow – In 1887, the largest snowflake on record was found.
Neologisms – In 1754 a new word (serendipity) was coined by Horace Walpole.

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Apollo I Fire

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 27, 2011

Apollo I fire damage

January 27, 1967: Disaster strikes the NASA Apollo Program. Testing for preflight began for Apollo 204, the first Apollo manned mission. The launch of Apollo I was to take place on February 21, 1967. Instead, during this preflight test, three astronauts lost their lives as fire spread through the Command Module. Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee entered the Apollo at 1:00 PM on this date. It was a Friday afternoon. Problems were evident right from the start.

First, Grissom noted a “sour smell” to the oxygen when connected to the spacecraft system. The spacesuit loop was tested and Grissom elected to continue with the test. A high oxygen flow indicator would periodically trigger the master alarm. It was thought crew movement was responsible for this aberration and the crew elected to continue. There were difficulties with the communications between the crew and the control room and that problem became more widespread. This delayed the countdown which was put on hold at 5:40 PM.

At 6:31 PM, the count was about ready to pick up where it had left off. Again there was another spike in the oxygen flow. Grissom is thought to have moved slightly. Four seconds later, it is assumed Chaffee was speaking when the calm assertion was broadcast, “Fire, I smell fire.” Two seconds later, White’s voice [more insistent] broadcast, “Fire in the cockpit.” The quickest escape was theoretically possible in 90 seconds. However, it had never been accomplished in that short of a time.

Because of the cramped quarters, White’s headrest had to be lowered before he could reach above and behind his left shoulder to activate a ratchet-type device which would release the first in a series of latches. According to a source, White had managed to make almost a full turn of the ratchet before being overcome by smoke. Ground technicians ran to the trapped men, but the heat and smoke was extreme. Even at their own peril, the ship itself could explode, the technicians finally got the hatch open. It was too late. The three astronauts had died of carbon monoxide poisoning along with burns from the fire. Doctors also treated 27 of the ground crew for smoke inhalation with two of them being hospitalized. This test became known as Apollo 1. Apollo 2 and 3 were never designated and Apollo 4 was launched in November 1967.

“The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space.” – Aleksei Leonov

“My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity.” – Edgar Mitchell

“A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, become her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. I could not help but love and cherish her.” – Taylor Wang

“To me, there is something superbly symbolic in the fact that an astronaut, sent up as assistant to a series of computers, found that he worked more accurately and more intelligently than they. Inside the capsule, man is still in charge.” – Adlai Stevenson

Also on this day:
Globetrotters – In 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters played their first game.
Guy Fawkes – In1606, the Gunpowder Plot conspirators were brought to trial.

 

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Bald Eagle or Wild Turkey?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2011

Great Seal of the United States

January 26, 1784: Benjamin Franklin sends a letter to his daughter discussing the eagle as engraved on the national seal. Many countries have an animal that represents them. England has the lion, Canada has the beaver while Australia has the kangaroo. The newly formed US now had the eagle. On July 4, 1776 three men were given the task of designing a seal for the new nation – Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, none of which wanted an eagle. Congress did not accept the seal as delivered by the committee which showed Lady Liberty holding a shield that represented the states.

William Barton, a Philadelphia artist, was called in to redesign the seal. His first attempt had a golden eagle in the design. The new nation, still fighting for independence from European rule, did not accept that particular bird since it was also found in Europe. Instead, the American bald eagle was used.

Franklin’s letter to his daughter laments the quality of the drawing of the eagle, saying that it looked like a dindon, or turkey. He then went on to compare the two birds. It was Franklin’s contention that the bald eagle was both lazy and a “rank coward.” It seems he had seen an eagle in flight followed by smaller birds and felt that the larger bird of prey was in retreat rather than just ignoring the insignificant birds. He also felt that wild turkeys were a staple of life, used during feasting times along with venison, corn, and pumpkin.

There are other national symbols that are familiar around the world. The Statue of Liberty is globally recognized as American, a present from the French honoring the nation’s commitment to liberty. Mount Rushmore, another large monument is particularly American with the faces of four presidents carved into the mountain. Many nations have a national flower, and the US claims the rose. National trees are popular as well, with the US having selected the oak. Other symbols that represent the US are the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly.” – Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” – Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to his daughter

“We have built no national temples but the Capitol; we consult no common oracle but the Constitution” – Rufus Choate

“People will accept your idea much more readily if you tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.” – David H. Comins

Also on this day:
The Hills Are Alive – In 1905, Maria von Trapp was born.
The Phantom of the Opera – In 1988, The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway in NYC.

 

First Winter Olympics

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 25, 2011

Poster for the Winter Games at Chamonix, France.

January 25, 1924: International Winter Sports Week opens in Chamonix, France. The competitions were held at the foot of Mont Blanc and were organized by the French Olympic Committee. They were held in association with the 1924 Summer Olympics. After the fact, the International Olympic Committee renamed them I Olympic Winter Games. From 1924 until 1992, winter games would be held in the same year as the Summer Games. Beginning in 1994, the Winter Games were held two years before the Summer Games.

Figure skating had been an Olympic event in London and Antwerp while ice hockey had been an event only at Antwerp. Winter sports were limited by the climate during the Summer Games. In 1921, the IOC began discussing a more equitable way to showcase winter sports. The results were these games held in France. Opening ceremonies were held on this day with the closing ceremony held on February 4 although the official end date is February 5. Medals were not awarded until February 5 and many athletes had already gone home, others collected their medals for them.

There were 16 events held in nine sports. The first gold medal was awarded for the 500-meter speed skate and went to American Charles Jewtraw. Sonja Henie from Norway was 11-years-old and came in last place in the ladies’ figure skating. She would go on to become a gold medalist for the next three Winter Olympics as well a six-time World Champion (1927-1936). She also became a movie star, based on her skating. The Canadian hockey team was awesome. They finished their qualifying round with 4 wins and scored 110 points through the four games. Their opponents, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and Great Britain scored 3 points, total.

Norway took home 17 medals, four of them gold. Finland also got four gold medals and a total of 11 medals. The US and Great Britain each got four medals total (one gold each). There had been 258 athletes competing in the games, 11 women and 247 men. Anders Haugen, of America, competed in the ski jump. He should have received a bronze medal for his efforts. There was, however, an error in the marking. He pled his case and was eventually given the bronze – in 1974 when he was 83 years old.

“A good athlete always mentally replays a competition over and over, even in victory, to see what might be done to improve the performance the next time.” – Frank Shorter

“An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.” – Emil Zatopek

“An athlete who tells you the training is always easy and always fun simply hasn’t been there. Goals can be elusive which makes the difficult journey all the more rewarding.” – Alberto Salazar

“And as a true athlete, mistakes haunt you forever.” – Jim Otto

Also on this day:
Moscow University – In 1755, Moscow University was established.
Shays’s Rebellion – In 1787, the Shays’s Rebellion heats up.

 

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“Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 24, 2011

Sutter's mill

January 24, 1848: James W. Marshall looks into the American River while working at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California and sees something shining in the water. Upon investigation, it proves to be gold. Charles H. Bennett, a carpenter at the mill disputes Marshall’s claim to discovery, stating that he found the gold instead. Either way, John Sutter, owner of the mill, tried to keep the news quiet. He felt that digging for gold would ruin his chance to develop an agricultural community. He was correct.

News leaked out and in March was published in the San Francisco paper without immediate result. A local merchant, paid in gold dust, running through the streets yelling that gold was found in the mountains did much more than the newspapers. By August 19, the New York Herald, the first East Coast paper to carry the news, stated gold was found in the West. By December 5, President Polk confirmed the news to Congress. The move was on.

There were three ways to get from the East Coast to the West. First was steamship around South America. A trip that took 5-8 months to cover the 18,000 nautical miles. The second was to sail to Panama, use mules and canoes to cross through the jungles, and then catch another ship north. The third was to cross over land via the Oregon-California Trail. All three held danger. Shipwrecks, typhoid fever, cholera, ill-prepared crossing of the desert, heat, thirst, even death. San Francisco was a small town of about 1,000 residents in 1848 and by 1850 boasted a population of 25,000.

Eventually 300,000 people came west. Many were miners, but also there were the many folks needed to support the new boom economy. Roads were built, as were churches and schools. New town cropped up. The steamships steamed, the railroads chugged, and the agriculture grew to keep the new economy going. California became a state in 1850. Growth came at a cost. Native Americans were pushed aside. The area was disturbed environmentally. Many of the new miners lived in tent cities or shanty towns. The Gold Rush changed the face of the west.

“The parallel people often use is the California gold rush. People got rich selling picks and shovels.” – Charles Wagner

“It’s much like the gold rush. It starts off with quite a few honest, hardworking prospectors who strike it rich now and again. And then you get the hangers on, the camp followers, the hookers, all the rest of the garbage that comes along because they think the streets are lined with gold.” – Frank Griffin

“There is a gold rush going on out there like the one in 1849 and everyone is afraid of not being part of it. No one wants to say that they took an extended vacation then.” – Tom Dyal

“The California Gold Rush left us a tragic legacy. We appreciate state parks’ willingness to take action to end Empire’s toxic legacy of contaminating our watershed.” – Carrie McNeil

Also on this day:
Badminton – In 1900, the Newcastle Badminton Club opened, the oldest such club in England.
Boy Scouting – In 1907, Robert Baden-Powell began the Boy Scouts.

 

Greenbriar Ghost

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 23, 2011

Zona Heaster Shue, murder victim

January 23, 1897: Elva Zona Heaster is found dead in Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Zona was born some time around 1873 and had a child out of wedlock in 1895. In October 1896, she met Erasmus (aka Edward) Shue. He had moved to Greenbrier looking for work as a blacksmith. They soon married over the protestations of Zona’s mother, Mary, who did not care for her new son-in-law. On this day, Zona’s body was discovered by a boy who had been sent to the house by Shue. Zona was found lying at the foot of bed, stretched out and with her feet together and one hand on her stomach.

The boy ran to his mother who called the local doctor and coroner, George Knapp. It took more than an hour for the doctor to arrive and by that time, Shue had come back home and moved the body, washing and dressing the corpse (a job usually handled by the women of the community). The doctor did not wish to intrude on the new husband’s grief and only briefly examined the body. Knapp did note some bruising around the neck, but Shue’s violent reaction to closer examination led the doctor to cease and desist. Zona’s death was attributed to “everlasting faint” and later changed to “childbirth” although it is not known if she was pregnant at her death or shortly before. She was buried on January 24.

It wasn’t long before Zona appeared as a ghost to her mother. She described a terrible death and told her mother exactly  how she was murdered. Zona told her mother things she would have had no other means of finding out, according to legend. Mary went to the authorities and convinced them to exhume Zona’s body. After a thorough medical examination, it was found that Zona’s neck had been broken and the cause of death was changed along with bringing a charge of murder.

As the preparations for the trial were underway, more information about Shue came to light. He had been married twice before with his first wife getting a divorce on the ground of great cruelty while his second wife died under mysterious circumstance less than a year after they were married. Shue had been heard saying he wished to marry seven women; Zona had been number three. The trial brought only facts in the case and the ghostly sightings were not brought out at first. Mary never wavered under cross-examination about the visits from her daughter. Shue was found guilty and sent to prison for life. He died in 1900, the victim of some epidemic running through the prison.

“Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer.” – from a state historical marker near where Zona Heaster Shue is buried

“The devil had killed her.” – Mary Heaster, upon hearing of her daughter’s death

“They cannot prove that I did it.” – Edward Shue upon hearing the news his wife had been murdered

“A ghost is someone who hasn’t made it – in other words, who died, and they don’t know they’re dead. So they keep walking around and thinking that you’re inhabiting their – let’s say, their domain. So they’re aggravated with you.” – Sylvia Browne

Also on this day:
Shaanxi Earthquake – In 1556, the deadliest earthquake on record strikes central China.
Ming Dynasty – In 1368, the Ming Dynasty began.

 

Pontifical Swiss Guards

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 22, 2011

Pontifical Swiss Guards inside St. Peter's Basilica

January 22, 1506: Pope Julius II welcomes 150 Swiss mercenaries to the Vatican as his new army and bodyguard contingent. Helveticans, another name for the Swiss of the Cantons region, were known in ancient Roman times as honorable, valiant warriors. The Pope needed to remain safe in a hostile world. Italy was ravaged by waves of outside wars, the country was not a unified entity, and the Pope and Vatican City were in the middle of it all. The previous Pope had looked into hiring mercenaries and had barracks built, so the new arrivals had housing upon their entry into service.

The Swiss Cantons were an overcrowded area with 500,000 inhabitants, many living in poverty. The way out was to enlist as a mercenary. The Confederation of Cantons organized 15,000 men who shipped out to various areas of conflict for summer battles and returned home in the winters, paid for their efforts. They were much in demand because of an innovative attack maneuver that was highly effective.

Today’s Pontifical Swiss Guard, dressed in the distinct multicolored uniform, must meet stringent requirements before even being considered for the job. The successful candidate must be a Swiss male, 19-30 years old, Catholic, at least 174 cm [5’ 9”] tall, who has completed military training, and must be celibate for at least the first three years. After that time, he may marry if he has attained a rank of corporal, is at least 25 years of age, and will sign on for another three years of service. Pay for the guards starts at $942/month with housing, food, and insurance included. A full contingency of Swiss Guards is 120, but today there are only around 100 men.

Rome was sacked on May 6, 1527 when Spanish King Charles V led an invasion against the city. The Swiss Guard, at a loss of 147 soldiers, managed to save Pope Clement VII and ensure his escape. The Spanish invaders occupied the Vatican caused much damage to buildings and artwork, and destroyed ancient manuscripts – using them as bedding for their horses. Each year on May 6, new recruits are enlisted and all Guards renew their vow to the Pope as his defender. They are more than window dressing serving a ceremonial duty, but are also the Pope’s only bodyguards. Alois Estermann protected Pope John Paul II when he jumped on the Popemobile and used his own body to shield the Pope during an assassination attempt in 1981.

“Among the many expressions of the presence of lay people in the Catholic Church, there is also the particular one of the Pontifical Swiss Guards, young men who motivated by love for Christ and church, put themselves at the service of the successor of Peter.” – Pope Benedict XVI

“The Pope is guarded by the Swiss Guard who stand proudly in pajamas and funny hats.” – Eddie Izzard

“The Pope? How many divisions has he got?” – Joseph Stalin

“I admire the Pope. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can tour without an album.” – Rita Rudner

Also on this day:
Roe v. Wade – In 1973, the Supreme Court decided on the abortion issue, assuring all women a right to privacy.
Bloody Sunday – In 1905, Russia’s Bloody Sunday took place.

 

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