December 31, 1904: New York City hosts a New Year’s Eve celebration held at Longacre Square. This major intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue actually encompasses several blocks. It stretches from West 42nd Street to West 47th Street and includes the blocks between Sixth and Eighth Avenues. In the heart of Manhattan, it is smaller than Red Square in Moscow and Trafalgar Square in London. However, it is still recognized worldwide. Today it is called Times Square and is the site of a major New Year’s Eve party each year.
The New Year’s Eve celebrations of 1904-1906 were brightened by fireworks. Since 1907 a lighted ball has been dropped from One Times Square. The first ball was made of iron and wood and weighed 700 pounds. It was illuminated by 100 25-watt light bulbs. In 1920 a 400 pound ball made of iron replaced it. During World War II (1942 and 1943) the ball was not dropped because of wartime light restrictions. Instead, at midnight there was a moment of silence in deference to all those fighting for freedom around the world.
In 1955 a new aluminum ball was put in place and weighed only 150 pounds. During the 1980s with an ad campaign of “I Luv NY” and the era of the Big Apple, lights were changed to red and a green stem was added. By the end of the decade, white lights again were in place. In 1995, upgrades to the ball added rhinestones and strobe lights with a computer controlled light show. For the worldwide millennial celebration of 2000, a totally new Waterford Crystal ball was made weighing 1,070 pounds. The exterior was lit with 168 halogen bulbs to enhance the 504 crystal triangles. The interior was lighted with 208 clear bulbs and 56 bulbs each in red, yellow, green, and blue. Another 96 high intensity strobe lights were added. The entire 696 lights and 90 rotating crystals were computer controlled.
New Year’s Eve is the final day of the Gregorian calendar. Western culture celebrates with parties spanning the transition of one year to the next. New Zealand is the first country to celebrate each year because of its position close to the International Date Line. Fireworks are a popular entertainment feature around the globe. Champagne is often used to help welcome the new year or perhaps to help forget the old. However you look at it, may you find peace in the New Year.
“Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to.” – Bill Vaughn
“Despite the common assumption that New Year’s Eve is a wall-to-wall party, this poll finds that most people will be safe at home celebrating with friends and family, with the Times Square countdown in the background.” – Maurice Carroll
“The Old Year has gone. Let the dead past bury its own dead. The New Year has taken possession of the clock of time. All hail the duties and possibilities of the coming twelve months!” – Edward Payson Powell
“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” – Mark Twain
Also on this day:
December 30, 1977: Ted Bundy escapes – for the second time. Theodore Robert Bundy was born on November 24, 1946 as Theodore Robert Cowell at the Elizabeth Lund Home For Unwed Mothers. His paternity remains a mystery. He was raised by his abusive grandparents who pretended to be his parents. By 1950 his mother left her parents’ house and took her young son, who already displayed some emotional problems, with her. She married Johnny Bundy and he adopted the young child.
Stories told to various biographers concerning his youth vary widely. He was arrested twice while in high school. He went on to college where a girlfriend dumped him. Experts claim this was a turning point. He was active in politics and after graduating in 1972, worked on Governor Daniel J. Evans’s reelection campaign. He entered law school, but eventually began to skip classes. By April 1974 he had dropped out completely.
We do not know when or where Ted Bundy began murdering women. He told various tales to a number of people over time. Before his death, he admitted to killing 30 women across seven states in the years between 1974 and 1978. He was stopped for a traffic violation in Utah and in his trunk was found a ski mask and various paraphernalia. He was already a suspect in Washington State, but the Utah police needed more information. They put him under surveillance. Eventually he was arrested and charged in Utah in 1975 with kidnapping and assault of 18-year-old Carol DaRonch. He was found guilty and sentenced to prison. He was later also charged with his first murder.
He escaped during a change of venue in June 1977 and was recaptured. He escaped again on this day and was able to flee the state. He was arrested in Florida on February 15, 1979, after another string of violent crimes. His notoriety brought him fame and a wife, who may have had his child in October 1982. He was found guilty of murder at one trial and then again for another murder at a second trial. He was sentenced to death in the electric chair. The sentence was carried out on January 24, 1989. While waiting on death row, he granted interviews to two biographers and details of his crime spree came to light.
“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow.”
“You feel the last bit of breath leaving their body. You’re looking into their eyes. A person in that situation is God!”
“Murder is not about lust and it’s not about violence. It’s about possession.”
“I don’t feel guilty for anything. I feel sorry for people who feel guilt.” – all from Ted Bundy
Also on this day:
December 29, 1721: Jeanne Antoinette Poisson is born in Paris, France. Called Reinette by her friends, she was the child of François Poisson and his wife Madeleine de La Motte. However, it is believed that Poisson was not actually her father. It is thought either Pâris de Montmartel or Le Normant de Tournehem took that honor. It is known that the latter became Reinette’s legal guardian when her purported father was forced to flee the country in 1725 due to accrued bad debts, a crime punishable by death. He was cleared of the crime and able to return to France eight years after his departure.
Reinette was beautiful, intelligent, well-educated, and a talented musician, dancer, and artist. She could recite entire plays and was given a wide-ranging education, much of it paid for by de Tournehem. In 1741, when she was 19, she was married to Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Étiolles, Tournehem’s nephew. Reinette and her new husband had two children, a son who died in infancy and a daughter born in 1744. Reinette founded her own salon and was joined by many of the philosophers of the time, including Voltaire.
As her fame grew, she came to the attention of the royal court and the King. Through the auspices of others, including her father-in-law, she gained an acquaintance with Louis XV. At the time of the introduction, he was mourning the loss of his second official mistress. Toward the end of February, Reinette was invited to a masked ball hosted by the King and by March, she had become his mistress. She was given rooms at Versailles in an apartment directly below the King’s. On May 7, the official separation from her husband was announced.
To be welcome at court, she needed a title and so the King purchased one for her. On June 24 she became the marquisate of Pompadour and was the given the estate, title, and coat of arms. Madame Pompadour wielded considerable power at court and was able to retain her place in the King’s heart and if not his bedchamber. She had two miscarriages, one in 1746 and another in 1749. She stopped sleeping with the King in 1750 but she remained his mistress until her death of tuberculosis in 1764 at the age of 42.
“A lover always thinks of his mistress first and himself second; with a husband it runs the other way.” – Honore de Balzac
“A mistress never is nor can be a friend. While you agree, you are lovers; and when it is over, anything but friends.” – Lord Byron
“A mistress should be like a little country retreat near the town, not to dwell in constantly, but only for a night and away.” – William Wycherley
“If ever a man and his wife, or a man and his mistress, who pass nights as well as days together, absolutely lay aside all good breeding, their intimacy will soon degenerate into a coarse familiarity, infallibly productive of contempt or disgust.” – Lord Chesterfield
Also on this day:
December 28, 1732: The Pennsylvania Gazette, owned and operated by printer Benjamin Franklin, runs an ad for a pamphlet put out by Richard Saunders. Poor Richard’s Almanack was a pet project for Franklin from 1732 to 1758. The pamphlet “printed and folded by B. Franklin,” as it stated on the cover, was a best seller in the colonies. Franklin printed and folded up to 10,000 copies per year.
The Almanack was based on similar versions from the previous 200 years as published in England. Franklin’s calendar, for instance, contained saints’ days from the Church of England and important dates such as birthdays and ascension to the throne for English monarchs. He included weather information, poems, astronomical information, and the occasional mathematical exercise. In 1750 he included what we would call demographic statistics.
The books are best known for the aphorisms and proverbs included as a humorous way to instruct the general population. While Franklin used “quotes” from many sources, he updated them. Rather than strictly citing Thomas Fuller, Lord Halifax, James Howell, Samuel Richardson, etc., he rewrote the tidbits with tighter wording improving the syntax and making them more pleasant when rolling off the tongue.
Poor Richard was a fictional person that Franklin created and was based on the Jonathan Swift character, Isaac Bickerstaff. Like Bickerstaff, Saunders called himself a “philomath” or lover of learning and an astrologer. Franklin used the forum to poke fun at other astrologers, going so far as to predicting their deaths. “Poor” Richard claimed in his introductions to need money to satisfy his wife’s pride. He claimed to need the work in order to keep Bridget from burning his books and “Rattling-traps” or scientific equipment. He even let the readership know what his wife was able to purchase from proceeds from earlier years.
“A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”
“Here comes the Orator! with his Flood of Words, and his Drop of Reason.”
“He that scatters Thorns, let him not go barefoot.”
“He’s a Fool that cannot conceal his Wisdom.” – all from Poor Richard’s Almanack
Also on this day:
December 27, 1512: The Laws of Burgos are issued by the Spanish Crown. Burgos, a city in the Kingdom of Castile (now called Spain), set forth the rules entitled in Spanish Leyes de Burgos. These rules codified the behaviors of Spanish settlers in the New World. It was concerned over the wellbeing of indigenous people in the region and the new laws forbade the mistreatment of them, although it did encourage their conversion to Catholicism. The laws were issued because the common laws of Castile were not applied to the colonies.
Cardinal Archbishop Domingo de Mendoza of Seville had heard reports of abuse of the American Natives, known as Indians. The naming convention resulted after a confused Columbus thought he had reached the Indies instead of bumping into a huge land mass between Europe and Asia. The region became known as the West Indies because of this confusion and the natives were called Indians. Mendoza, appalled by stories of mistreatment, sent a group of Dominican missionaries to Hispaniola to try to intervene. The missionaries were unable to physically stop the abuse, but they agitated with enough vigor to bring about change.
The Spanish settlers were afraid of losing their lands if Mendoza continued and therefore they arranged their own ambassador to Spain. They chose a Franciscan Friar, Alonso de Espinal, to present their case to King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Their plan backfired and rather than making their case, the King was aghast at the treatment meted out to the natives. Ferdinand then created a committee of theologians and academics to arrive at a solution to this problem.
The committee came up with a set of 35 laws, some of which still seem draconian. Indians were to be removed from their land but then placed into “encomiendas” with housing provided and then forced to plant crops to feed the people. A law stated that Indians would leave their land willingly so as not to suffer being removed by force. Churches were to be built close by and natives were to be tested every two weeks to be sure they were learning the Ten Commandments. Two percent of the natives were to be taught to read. There were many more regulations and they were yet again amended in July 28, 1513.
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” – Albert Einstein
“If I’d observed all the rules, I’d never have got anywhere.” – Marilyn Monroe
“Live one day at a time emphasizing ethics rather than rules.” – Wayne Dyer
“Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
Also on this day:
December 26, 1933: Edwin Armstrong is granted US patent number 1,941,066 for FM radio. Armstrong was born in 1890 in Chelsea, New York and was educated at Columbia University. His early patents included a regenerative circuit which he filed in 1914 while still a junior in college. He went on to collect a total of 42 patents. His first one however, was the subject of a 12 year legal battle with Armstrong, RCA, and Westinghouse on one side and Lee De Forest and AT&T on the other.
While defending and eventually losing his patent lawsuit, he continued to work on frequency modulation radio in the basement lab at Columbia’s Philosophy Hall. FM radio created a much clearer sound without the static associated with AM radios of the time. Armstrong submitted his patent on July 30, 1930 and was finally granted that patent for a “Radio signaling system” three-and-a-half years later.
Frequency modulations (FM) “conveys information over carrier waves by varying its frequency.” Armstrong presented a paper entitled “A Method of Reducing Disturbances in Radio Signaling by a System of Frequency Modulation” to the Institute of Radio Engineers in New York City on November 6, 1935. The paper was published the next year. The whole concept is based on mathematical theory that is further enhanced by the Modulation Index making the whole completely incomprehensible to non-math majors.
To make FM radio successful, the signals are sent via the “FM band” and must be picked up and translated by an appropriate receiver. The first FM radio broadcasts in the US were finally achieved in 1946. Most of the world uses the broadcast band 87.5 to 108.0 MHz with Japan as an exception. Usually the broadcast band of today is an exact multiple of 100 kHz. We also have stereo FM radio and Dolby sound systems to further enhance our listening enjoyment.
“My father hated radio and could not wait for television to be invented so he could hate that too.” – Peter De Vries
“George is a radio announcer, and when he walks under a bridge… you can’t hear him talk.” – Stephen Wright
“People in America, when listening to radio, like to lean forward. People in Britain like to lean back.” – Alistair Cooke
“Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing.” – Robert Bresson
Also on this day:
December 25, 1991: The dissolution of the USSR is complete. Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary on March 11, 1985. The Soviet economy was stagnant and his primary goal during his time in power was to revive it. His first step was to try to reorganize the economy. But when he attempted to do that, he noticed it would be impossible without also upgrading the political and social structure. He began his reformation process on April 23 with changes in personnel. His sweeping changes were given the name of glasnost or perestroika.
The dissolution began with Gorbachev taking office and took over six years to establish fifteen separate Post-Soviet states from what was once the USSR. Direct elections were introduced and the ban on political parties was lifted. Even so, in March of 1991, a large majority of citizens voted to retain the Union. On December 22, 1991 the presidents of the Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus met secretly and agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union. All this took place after much dissention including an attempted military coup in August of 1991.
The fifteen states established is alphabetical order are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The largest and predominant area is Russia, which is by far the largest region of the former Union. Kazakhstan is the next largest in area. Armenia is the smallest new state, comprised of 11,484 square miles or slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. In comparison, Russia covers 6,592,800 square miles or almost twice the area of the US or China. It is the largest country in the world.
During the early hours of December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned from office and handed all powers over to Boris Yeltsin, who had received 57% of the votes on June 12, 1991. Later that night, the Soviet Union flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time. The next day, the Council of Republics formally recognized the dissolution of the USSR, done by and to itself. By the end of the year, the few Soviet institutions which had not given control to Russia previously were under its auspices or had ceased to function. Individual republics took over self government. A poll taken in 2006 indicated that 66% of Russians regretted the collapse of the USSR, while in 2005, half of those in the Ukraine also lamented the passing of the Union.
“I am a Communist, a convinced Communist! For some that may be a fantasy. But to me it is my main goal.”
“I believe, as Lenin said, that this revolutionary chaos may yet crystallize into new forms of life.”
“If not me, who? And if not now, when?”
“If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.” – all from Mikhail Gorbachev
Also on this day:
December 24, 1818: German poet and priest Joseph Mohr brings a poem to Austrian composer Franz X. Gruber. Together they produced a Christmas carol which is still sung today nearly 200 years later. The song was first performed on Christmas Day 1818 at Nicola-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) which also seems fitting. The church was demolished in 1900 due to flood damage and urban change. Mohr had written his poem two years earlier. He wanted a melody, something for guitar, to accompany his words.
A Society has grown up around this song weeding out apocryphal stories from verifiable truth. They would also like to spread the story of the creation of this perennial favorite. Some myths state that the church organ was broken and so a new song for guitar was created. That story was first told in 1909. There doesn’t seem to be any reason given for not playing a traditional song on a guitar, if that were the case. The myths are silent on that aspect.
The original manuscript is lost to us. In 1995, a manuscript in Mohr’s handwriting was found and dated from 1820. Mohr tells of his earlier poetry writing, being transferred to a rural church, and Gruber’s musical contribution. Gruber’s melody is influenced by Austrian folk music and even yodeling. We have no copy of Gruber’s original composition notes or finished song.
While the song was not an immediate Top Ten Hit, it never died away, again as rumor has it. Gruber published his song, it was not hidden away until the organ was repaired. Today it has been translated into over 300 languages and dialects. Worldwide popularity makes it a true Christmas carol. Perhaps it is the simplicity embodied in both lyrics and music, but the calming sense of peace surely comes to those who sing Silent Night.
“Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace” – Joseph Mohr
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day; their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the word repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas,’ even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.” – Alfred Anderson
“Christmas carolers sing about peace on earth, but they don’t tell us where.” – unknown
Also on this day:
December 23, 1958: Tokyo Tower is dedicated. Still standing, it is a communications and observation tower located in Shiba Park, Minato, Tokyo, Japan. It stands 1,091 feet tall and at the time of its construction, it was the tallest artificial structure in Japan. It has since been superseded by the Tokyo Sky Tree which is not yet completed and open to the public. This newer structure, also a tower, is already it’s full height of 2,080 feet high and is scheduled to open in February of next year.
Japan’s public broadcasting station began television service in 1953. Private broadcasting soon followed and a transmission tower was needed. Also, at the end of World War II, Japan was looking for a monument to inspire national pride. The plan at the time was to build something taller than the Empire State Building, which was then the tallest building in the world. However, the plan fell through and something else was needed. The tower that was built instead was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The tower needed to not only withstand earthquakes, but also the winds of typhoons or hurricanes.
In June 1957, ground was broken for the new construction project. At least 400 workers were on the project each day during the building phase. The tower is made of steel and one-third of it was scrap metal taken from US tanks damaged during the Korean War. On October 14, when the 90-meter antenna was added to the top of the tower, it was the tallest self-supporting structure in the world. It remained the tallest artificial structure in Japan until 2010. Construction costs were $8.4 million. The tower is painted white and international orange to comply with air safety requirements.
The tower still has antennae used for TV and radio, which were first added in 1961. However, it was inadequate for digital transmissions and so the newer tower was needed. Today, the tower’s main source of revenue is tourism as well as leasing the antennae. Under the tower is a four-story building called FootTown with museums, restaurants, and shops. There are two observation decks, one at 490 feet and the other smaller one at 820 feet. Since it opened on this day, over 150 million people have come to visit.
“A well-ordered life is like climbing a tower; the view halfway up is better than the view from the base, and it steadily becomes finer as the horizon expands.” – William Lyon Phelps
“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” – Saint Augustine
“My father was always anxious to give pleasure to his children. Accordingly, he took me one day, as a special treat, to the top of the grand old tower, to see the chimes played.” – James Nasmyth
“When the ivy has found its tower, when the delicate creeper has found its strong wall, we know how the parasite plants grow and prosper.” – Anthony Trollope
Also on this day:
December 22, 2008: The largest release of fly ash in US history takes place just before 1 AM. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill took place in Roane County, Tennessee. The byproduct of coal combustion used to create power is fly ash. These fine particles were placed in water to create a slurry. The slurry was then stored in wet form in dredge cells. The resulting sludge was gray in color and viscous. The entire process was created to keep the fly ash from contaminating the air. The ash was instead stored in a retaining pond covering 84 acres. The dike holding back this mess ruptured and the slurry spewed forth.
The spill released 1.1 billion gallons of goo that eventually covered 300 acres in gray sludge. While located in a rural area, this still caused much property damage. The mudflow wave covered 12 houses, pushing one off its foundation and caused damage to 42 residential properties. It also broke a water main, obstructed a rail line, and downed trees and power lines. The volume of liquid released would fill 1,660 Olympic sized swimming pools and was about 101 times as great at the Exxon Valdez oil spill. A spokesman at the time said that ⅔ of the 2.6 million cubic yards was spilled, however analysis shows more than that amount was covering the area. Some areas were covered with as much as six feet of sludge on Christmas Day when aerial photos were taken which tripled the estimated size of the disaster.
With the release of this slurry, locals worried about contamination of the water supply. Testing by the company responsible and done at the time of the spill showed the water to be safe with “barely detectable” levels of mercury and arsenic. However, on January 1, 2009, and independent test of the waters near the breach showed significantly raised levels of many toxic metals including arsenic, barium, copper, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, and thallium.
The breach may have been caused by high levels of rain at the time. During the first three weeks of December, 6.48 inches of rain fell. That was on top of 1.16 inches that fell the last two days of November. The amount of rain, combined with temperatures that dropped to 12⁰ F weakened the earthen embankment, according to the TVA. In October 2008, an examination of the dam had revealed a “minor leak” in the structure. Two prior leaks had occurred in 2003 and 2006. The dam had been repaired each year since 2001. Greenpeace asked for a criminal investigation and landowners filed a lawsuit asking for $165 million.
“Modern technology / Owes ecology / An apology.” – Alan M. Eddison
“Because we don’t think about future generations, they will never forget us.” – Henrik Tikkanen
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” – Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold
Also on this day: