May 31, 1669: Samuel Pepys makes his last diary entry. Pepys was born February 23, 1633. He was a naval Administrator as well as a Member of Parliament. What he is most famous for, however, is his diary. He began writing in his diaries on January 1, 1660. He was a meticulous record keeper and included both public events and his private thoughts. Momentous occasions as well as trivial items were included. His commentaries were all inclusive with national events juxtaposed next to what women he was pursuing.
Some of the more important events included in his diary were the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Great Plague, and the Great Fire of London. His recordings gave first hand voice to horrid events as well as to the political intrigues of the day. He also included entries on his public life. Pepys was quite efficient on the Navy Board, more than could be said for some of his superiors. This proved fodder for many critical entries into his diary. Like many of us today, he would be scheduled to meet with a prospective customer only to arrive at a meeting place such as a coffee house, and find he had been stood up. These frustrating events also were duly entered.
His personal life was also recorded. We know he liked wine and plays and enjoyed convivial company. He was somewhat obsessed with accumulating wealth and made comparisons against others he knew, trying to assess his ranking in this endeavor. His marriage was less than he hoped and he recorded for posterity, a number of extramarital liaisons with a number of women. While writing the intimate details, he would use a variety of languages.
The diary was written in a form of shorthand and was written purely for his personal use. However, he did make efforts to save the written work, going so far as to make better copies from notes. He had loose pages of writing bound into six volumes. He kept copious notes for nearly a decade, but opted on this date to quit writing. He cited his failing eyesight as the reason for this. He began having to dictate all writing for others to take down and could no longer afford the luxury of keeping his private thoughts in his diary, since they would no longer be private. The diaries were not published until 1825 when a two volume set was released. A second transcription was put forth in 1875 with revisions seeing print again in 1899 and 1926.
“Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.” (first entry in the diary)
“But, Lord! how sad a sight it is to see the streets empty of people, and very few upon the ‘Change. Jealous of every door that one sees shut up, lest it should be the plague; and about us two shops in three, if not more, generally shut up.” (August 16, 1665, during the great plague)
“I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire.” (September 2, 1666, the Great Fire of London)
From October 25, 1668, writing about his wife “coming up suddenly, did find me imbracing the girl con my hand sub su coats; and endeed I was with my main in her cunny. I was at a wonderful loss upon it and the girl also….” – all from Samuel Pepys
May 30, 1933: Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition or Chicago’s Worlds Fair was the venue for Sally Rand’s fan dance. Harriet Helen Gould Beck, stage name Sally Rand or Billy Beck, was born in Hickory County, Missouri in 1904. By the 1920s she was performing on stage and in silent films. She had a rather prominent lisp and when the films went to talkies, she needed another way to earn a living.
Ms. Rand purchased two used 7-foot pink ostrich feather fans and danced behind them at the World’s Fair. She became the featured performer at the “Streets of Paris” concession. Fan dancers may or may not be nude behind the fans. The idea is more of a suggestion than actual revelation of excess flesh. Eyes are misdirected by the fans and less rather than more is shown. Regardless of this, the local authorities were flummoxed by the diminutive dancer.Randstood only 5’1″ (155 cm) and hid a curvaceous 35-22-35 inch (89-56-89 cm) figure behind those fans.
She was brought to the attention of the law and when taken to court she stood in front of Superior Judge Joseph B. David who showed a stunning amount of common sense and dismissed the charges saying, “When I go to the fair, I go to see the exhibits and perhaps to enjoy a little beer. As far as I’m concerned, all these charges are just a lot of old stuff to me. Case dismissed for want of equity.”
Rand continued to dance for the rest of her life. She noticed troubles with wayward winds ruffling her feathers and she wanted to present something new, so she developed a bubble dance. Balloons at the time were not large enough for her needs and so she used her own money to develop what she needed, a 60-inch clear balloon. She was not just a dancer, but was able to discuss and lecture on Shakespeare, politics, books, and other topics.
“I have never retired – I have averaged 40 working weeks a year since 1933.”
“I haven’t been out of work since the day I took my pants off.”
“When I first came out with my fans and the wind hit me, I almost took off.”
“What in heaven’s name is strange about a grandmother dancing nude? I’ll bet lots of grandmothers do it.”
“Beauty comes from within; a greedy, avaricious, gossipy woman cannot be beautiful.” – all from Sally Rand
May 29, 1914: The RMS Empress of Ireland sinks. The ship was built in Scotland for Canadian Pacific Steamships but carried the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) designation due to government agreements from the past. The ship cost £375,000 (≈ £31,880,000 today) and took eighteen months to build. The ship was 570 feet long and 66 feet wide at the beam. There were twin funnels, two masts, dual propellers and she had an average speed of 18 knots (21 mph). There were berths for 310 first-class passengers and 470 second-class passengers. Third-class held 750 passengers. Capacity for the ship was 1,580.
On May 28, 1914 the Empress of Ireland left Quebec City for Liverpool at 4:30 PM local time. There were 1,477 passengers and crew aboard. Henry George Kendall had just been made Captain earlier in the month and this was his first trip down the St. Lawrence River while in command. The ship was near Pointe-au-Père, Quebec. The weather was quite foggy and it was 2:00 AM. Also on the river was the SS Storstad, a loaded coal carrier sailing from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Quebec. The Norwegian ship was hauling for the Dominion Coal Company.
The Storstad crashed into the starboard side of the Empress, gashing a fourteen foot hole in the side of the larger ship. The ship listed heavily to starboard and took on more water through open portholes. Those in the lower decks were drowned quickly as the icy waters poured in. Many of the passengers and crew from the upper decks were awakened by the noise of the crash and managed to get into lifeboats. Only four lifeboats could be loaded before the ship was leaning too far to load more. About ten minutes after the crash, the ship lurched and rolled onto her side. Hundreds of passengers and crew scurried to the side of the ship. Then, the Empress went below water, a mere fourteen minutes after being hit. There were 1,012 people dead, 840 of them passengers. Only 465 survived.
The Storstad did not sink and made it to port with a crushed bow. There was an inquiry held on June 16 and the Norwegian ship was found responsible for sinking the larger ship, although this finding was hotly debated both then and now. Sir John Bigham was presiding. He had also presided over inquiries into other sea disasters. He had already presided over hearings for the RMS Titanic in 1912 and would sit on the inquiry for the RMS Lusitania in 1915. The Storstad‘s owners were fined $2,000,000 but were unable to pay the fine. The ship was sold for $175,000 and later was sunk by a torpedo during World War I.
“You have sunk my ship!” – Cap. Kendall on being pulled from the water
“Ironically, had both ships involved exercised less caution, the accident would likely not have happened.” – PBS
“The Storstad’s bow, however, had gone between the liner’s steel ribs as smoothly as an assassin’s knife.” – James Croall
“Today the Empress of Ireland lies in about 130 feet of water, well within the reach of scuba divers.” – Robert Ballard
May 28, 1892: John Muir organizes and becomes the first president of the newly formed preservationist organization – the Sierra Club. Muir started with 128 charter members and remained president for 22 years, until his death. The first project for the club was the defeat of pending legislation that would infringe on the boundaries ofYosemite Valley’s protected lands.
Muir was born inScotlandin 1838 and his family moved toWisconsinin 1949. He went to theUniversityofWisconsinwhere he took his first botany class. He was enchanted but rather than graduate, decided to learn in by studying Nature herself. He walked fromFloridatoIndiana, studying the flora and fauna. He intended to go to South America, but when he contracted malaria, he opted to stay inSan Francisco.
Muir spent eight days exploring theYosemite Valleyand was struck by the vast beauty. After his vacation, he moved to the Sierra foothills and worked at several jobs. He took a job shepherding closer toYosemiteand used his spare time to further study the intricate landscape. He urged that the area be set up as a protected area. It was, but it remained initially in the control of the state rather than a national park.
Today, the Sierra Club has over 750,000 members in Americawith a sister organization in Canada. There are chapters across the country protecting 150 million acres of wilderness and wildlife habitats. Over 83% of each dollar collected is used for conservation and preservation activities. The club also publishes a bi-monthly magazine, SIERRA, and has since 1893 when the forerunner first hit print, the Sierra Club Bulletin. The written material helps to deliver in depth analysis of environmental concerns.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.”
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.”
“No temple made with hands can compare withYosemite.” – all from John Muir
May 27, 1927: Ford Motor Company begins retooling plants. The Ford Model T began production in 1908. The car was also called the Tin Lizzie, Flivver, or simply T. The car’s popularity was such that it’s availability marks the general popularity of the automobile in general. It was the first affordable automobile and opened up travel to middle America and in years to come, the world. The assembly line production reduced costs and workers were paid a wage large enough to be able to afford to buy a car. This produced a ready market for the commodity. The first car was produced on August 12, 1908 and left the factory on September 27, 1908.
The Model T was not the first car Henry Ford produced. The company began in 1903 and he built a prototype Model A. There were not models built for every letter although the car just prior to the Model T was the Model S, the car the S replaced was the Model N. The Model T was designed by Childe Harold Wills along with Joseph A. Galamb and Eugene Farkas and team of other engineers. Within ten years, half the cars in America were Ford’s Tin Lizzie. Most of them were black. The color was durable and lasted well. Thirty different black paints were used, however from 1908 to 1914 and again in 1926 and 1927, other colors (red, blue, green, and gray) were available.
The car got 25 miles to the gallon and had a 20-horsepower engine running a two speed transmission and could reach 45 mph. Vanadium steel gave the car both durability and a lighter weight. In 1914, Ford put out 308,162 cars, more than all the other car makers combined. More than 15 million of the cars were made before production ceased on May 26, 1927. The next day, the retooling began for Ford’s new Model. Again, not quite following the alphabet, the next Model offered to the general public was the Model A.
The first A car rolled off the assembly line on October 20, 1927 but didn’t go on sale until December 2. It was called a 1927 model and came in four different colors, none of them black. Production of the Model A ended in March 1932 after nearly 5 million were made. The 40-horsepower engine got between 25 and 30 miles to the gallon and had a top speed of 65 mph. The wheelbase was slightly wider than the T and it had a 3 speed transmission with a 1 speed reverse. The Model A also came in a variety of styles – 25 of them. After retiring in 1932, it was replaced by the Model B.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
“A bore is a person who opens his mouth and puts his feats in it.”
“An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous.”
“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” – all from Henry Ford
May 26, 1954: A ship is discovered in a pit near the Great Pyramid of Giza. The full-size ship was constructed for Pharaoh Khufu or Cheops. It was placed here in order to help transport the Pharaoh’s soul to heaven and so was built from sacred materials. The sycamore and cedar wood ship was sealed in a pit next to the pyramid used to house the great ruler after his death. The ship was found by Kamal el-Malakh, the director of archaeological work for Giza and lower Egypt. Amazingly, it had not been plundered by tomb robbers during the 4,600 years since it had been placed.
The well-preserved vessel was 143 feet long and 19.5 feet wide. It had a flat bottom without an actual keel. A rudder sweep along with a dozen oars and coils of linen rope were in place aboard ship, ready to sail. The ship was built using unpegged tenons and the planks and frame were held together using Halfah grass. The boat’s 1,224 components were transported out and needed to be rebuilt into the magnificent barge once again. The reconstructed ship used modern rope to lash it together and 95% of the wood are the original timbers used for the Pharaoh.
The ship is known as a “solar barge” or a ritual vessel used at the time to carry the king after his resurrection. He would be joined by the sun god, Ra, as they traveled across the heavens. This particular ship shows some evidence of having seen some time in actual water and may have been used to carry Khufu’s embalmed body from Memphis to Giza. It is also possible the Pharaoh could have used it as a “pilgrimage ship” to visit revered sites and so it was blessed and buried with him to use in the afterlife.
The rebuilt ship is housed in a museum built over the pit where it was discovered. The Khufu Boat Museum is alongside the Great Pyramid, the oldest and the largest of the Pyramids of Giza. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence. It is believed to have taken 20 years to build and was completed in 2560 BC. It remained the tallest manmade structure for over 3,800 years until it was surpassed by the Lincoln Cathedral in England. There are three known chambers inside the pyramid with the lowest one cut into the bedrock. There are several theories about how the pyramids were built, but we have no definitive answer.
“Cheops’ Law: Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget.” – Robert A. Heinlein
“On the pyramid it is declared in Egyptian writing how much was spent on radishes and onions and leeks for the workmen, and if I rightly remember that which the interpreter said in reading to me this inscription, a sum of one thousand six hundred talents of silver was spent.” – The Greek historian Herodotus likely being duped by a tour guide, 5th century BC
“They say the Pharaohs built the pyramids Do you think one Pharaoh dropped one bead of sweat? We built the pyramids for the Pharaohs and we’re building for them yet.” – Anna Louise Strong
“Far from being a curse, it might be lucky to disturb a pharaoh’s tomb. These people beat the life span expectation for those days by about a year.” – James Randi
May 25, 240 BC: The first documented appearance of the most famous of the periodic comets is made. The comet would one day come to be called Halley’s Comet (rhymes with valley). The Chinese work, Shih chi, tells of a “broom star” seen during the lunar month of May 24 to June 23 in 239 or 240 BC.
Edmond Halley first recognized the periodic nature of this comet. He was working with all observed comets seen between 1337 and 1698. He noted three comets with identical orbits spaced regularly apart in their time of appearance – 1531, 1607, and 1682. He determined that these three comets were, in fact, one comet that showed a periodic reappearance. Working backwards through historic records, it was found that 23 previous visits by the comet had been recorded. According to Halley, the comet would appear again in 1758. He was correct, but did not live to see it, dying in 1742.
Every appearance since the 240 BC event has been recorded somewhere in history. The next visit in 164 BC was recorded in two different Babylonian cuneiform tablets. The orbit as described confirmed that it was Halley’s comet. The next visit – 87 BC – was again recorded by the Babylonians. The most famous appearance was the one recorded in the Bayeux Tapestry in 1066. The closest the comet has ever come to Earth was 0.0342 Astronomical Units or 3.2 million miles.
The last visit from the comet was in 1986, with perihelion occurring in February and March of that year. Perihelion is when as astral body is closest to its center of attraction – in this case, the Sun. The possibility now existed for mankind to visit the famous comet and spaceships were sent out to get a closer look. The Giotto took pictures of the nucleus and showed an irregularly shaped mass, probably mostly ice, with a crater and three trailing jets of molecules. The comet’s orbit is highly elliptical and outside the plane of the major planets. In fact, it is such an ecliptic orbit, it is even outside the non-planet Pluto’s orbit. The next appearance is scheduled for 2062.
“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet.” – Mark Twain
“Say, Halley’s Comet is coming around again. I didn’t know what all the excitement’s about. I’ve seen it so many times, I’m getting dizzy!” – Bob Hope
“I earnestly wish them all imaginable success; in the first place that they may not, by the unseasonable obscurity of a cloudy sky, be deprived of this most desirable sight; and then, that having ascertained with more exactness the magnitudes of the planetary orbits, it may redound to their eternal fame and glory.” -EdmondHalley
“This sight… is by far the noblest astronomy affords.” -EdmondHalley
May 24, 2001: The third floor of the Versailles wedding hall collapses. The hall was located in Talpiot, Jerusalem. It was a Thursday evening and the newly married Keren and Asaf Dror were celebrating their wedding when the floor simply vanished. At 10:43 p.m. the third floor gave way with 23 people falling to their deaths. Another 380 were injured. The bride and groom both survived. Shocking enough in its own right, the disaster was captured by someone at the wedding filming events. The collapse was broadcast both locally and on international television.
Rescue efforts began immediately with some of the surviving 700 wedding guests helping family and friends. Others joined in the attempt to free people from the rubble. The floors collapsed one on top of the other and it took days to complete rescue efforts. Eli Beer, the first EMT on the scene, instituted Israel’s mass casualty response. The rescue was spearheaded by the Home Front Command’s Search & Rescue Unit. There were 23 bodies pulled from the ruins. Amazingly enough, three people were extricated alive.
Of immediate concern was whether or not this was a terrorist attack. It was found to be due to structural failure. The building was engineered using the Pal-Kal method, a light-weight coffered concrete floor building system. The floor was seen to sag just before it collapsed, wedding guests reported. The area of collapse was initially designed to be a two story building while the other side of the building was to be three stories. During the construction phase, it was decided to create the building all one height and the load bearing was too much for the base. To offset this (at least partially) a lighter weight method of construction was used.
Just a few weeks prior to the wedding, the building owners removed partitions on the second floor to create a more open space. Unfortunately, these were load bearing walls and the floor above began to sag. The building owners didn’t realize the enormity of the consequences and thought it was only a cosmetic issue. The three owners of the building were convicted of causing death by negligence and damage by negligence. The inventor of the Pal-Kal method and three others involved in the construction have also received prison sentences for death and sabotage by negligence. The wedding hall was demolished and the site remains sealed.
“Love one another and you will be happy. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.” – Michael Leunig
“True love stories never have endings.” – Richard Bach
“Spouse: someone who’ll stand by you through all the trouble you wouldn’t have had if you’d stayed single.” – unknown
“The highest happiness on earth is marriage.” – William Lyon Phelps
May 23, 1785: Benjamin Franklin writes a letter claiming he invented double lenses spectacles. Our ancient ancestors had to cope with poor of failing eyesight as there were no corrective measures available to them. Seneca, born around 4 BC, read while looking through a globe of water to achieve some means of magnification. Nero watched gladiators while gazing through an emerald, not as magnifying lens, but as sunglasses.
The oldest lens found at Nineveh (see April 23) dated from about 600 BC but it was used to focus light for burning things. By 1000 AD, a reading stone or magnifying glass was invented. It was laid directly over print to work as a magnifying aid. Eventually the idea changed to two smaller framed lenses held in front of the eyes. The Chinese created paired lenses about 2,000 years ago, but these were used to protect the eyes from evil spirits and did not correct for vision.
In 1268, Roger Bacon described corrective lenses in Opus Majur and in 1289 di Popozo wrote about them and called them “spectacles.” While the first lenses were simply magnifiers, by the 16th century concave lenses were made for correction of near-sightedness. It took over 300 years to correct one design flaw – keeping the lenses correctly positioned in front of the eyes. First they were placed in frames that were perched on the nose – pince-nez. Some noses were simply not up to the task. By the 17th century, silk ribbons were tied to the frames and looped around the ears. In 1730 rigid side pieces were added and in 1752 they were finally hinged.
Contacts were first described in 1845 but none were tried until 1889. They were not very successful at that time. By the 1940s many varieties of contacts were available, most made of some form of glass. These could be tolerated only for short periods of time. With the introduction of plastic lenses and the further refinement of the product, by 1964 6 million Americans were wearing contacts.
“I wear my wife’s eyeglasses because she wants me to see things her way.” – Jayson Feinburg
“Rose-colored glasses are never made in bifocals. Nobody wants to read the small print in dreams.” – Ann Landers
“I had some eyeglasses. I was walking down the street when suddenly the prescription ran out.” – Stephen Wright
“Bifocals effectively work the same way they have since they were invented by Benjamin Franklin. But as any of more than 40 million people in America who need bifocals know, they’re a pain.” – Nasser Peyghambarian
May 22, 1819: The SS Savannah leaves port at Savannah, Georgia to sail to Liverpool, England. This was the first trip across the Atlantic Ocean using a steamship. The Savannah was not actually a steamship, but a hybrid sailing ship/sidewheel steamer. She arrived in England on June 20 but only moved a portion of the way under steam power. She was owned by Scarborough & Isaacs, built by Fickett & Crocker, and cost $50,000 or about $884,000 in today’s money.
The Savannah was originally built as a sailing packet in New York City. While still on the slipway, Captain Moses Rogers lined up her buyers and convinced them to convert the ship to the hybrid she became. The goal was to be the first American ship to cross the Atlantic using steam power. Moses Rogers supervised the steam conversion project and his brother-in-law oversaw the construction of the hull and rigging. Some say this negates the crossing ability to claim first crossing since the sails and rigging were available and were used. The ship was too small to carry much fuel and so the steam engine was to be used only in calm weather. If the sails were able to maintain a speed of four knots, then they were employed.
The ship had sixteen staterooms with two berths in each. There was a distinct difference between the men’s rooms and those to be used by women. There were three furnished salons richly decorated with imported carpets, curtains, and hangings along with mirrors used for decorative purposes. The rooms were said to resemble those on a luxury yacht and did not resemble the normal fare for a steam packet.
The theory for a steam driven ship was put forth in the early 1700s. Jonathan Hulls was given a patent in 1736 for a steam engine-powered boat. The improvement of steam engines by James Watt finally made the ships possible. The first steam ship recorded in the US was built in 1787 by John Fitch, but it was demonstrated with paddles in place. In 1793, Samuel Morey first demonstrated a paddle wheel boat in North America. Robert Fulton was the first to operate steamboats commercially and began doing so after a successful test run in 1803. The Savannah made it to England, but it was not commercially successful. It was converted back to a sailing packet. It would be nearly another 30 years before an American ship crossed the Atlantic using steam power.
“A sailing ship is no democracy; you don’t caucus a crew as to where you’ll go anymore than you inquire when they’d like to shorten sail.” – Sterling Hayden
“Design has taken the place of what sailing used to be.” – Dennis Conner
“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
“It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” – George William Curtis