May 31, 1889: At 3:10 PM, the South Fork Dam bursts. The dam was located on Lake Conemaugh near South Fork, Pennsylvania. Between 1838 and 1853, Pennsylvania built the dam as part of a canal and reservoir system. It was sold first to a railroad and then to a group a speculators. The group made some shoddy repairs to the old dam, raised the level of the lake, and created the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. Cottages and a clubhouse were built at the secret retreat frequented by 61 wealthy steel and coal industrialists from Pittsburgh, just a few hours away by rail.
The lake created by the dam was 2 miles long and about 1 mile wide. It was 60 feet deep near the dam with 7 miles of perimeter. It held 20 million tons of water. A huge storm cell formed over Kansas and Nebraska on May 28. The storm reached the South Fork area two days later. It began to pour. A remarkable rainfall of 6-10 inches fell over the entire region in 24 hours. During the night, tiny waterways turned into debris-strewn rivers.
Elias Unger, current president of the Fishing and Hunting Club, awoke on May 31 to a stunning sight. Lake Conemaugh was swollen and close to overflowing the dam – and it was still raining. Spillways were blocked by debris. Unger rounded up help to clear the spillways as well as try to raise the height of the dam. The streets of the nearby towns were already awash by the overflowing Conemaugh River which had flooded during the night. Still it continued to rain. The dam burst and the entire 20 million tons or 4.8 billion gallons of water emptied from the lake in just 40 minutes.
South Fork, a small town built on the hillsides was totally destroyed with 4 people killed. More debris was washed into the wall of water and as it surged against the Conemaugh Viaduct, the water was temporarily halted. Seven minutes later, the viaduct collapsed. The flood waters ran through the valley sweeping up all in its path. About 57 minutes after the dam collapsed, the flood struck Jamestown. Filled with debris and moving at speeds up to 40 mph, the wave of water was 35-40 feet high. The water mark reached as high as 89 feet. There were 2,209 people killed and nearly $17 million (about $425 million in 2012 USD) of property damage sustained.
“On the 31st day of May, 1889, more than two thousand lives were lost when the South Fork Dam collapsed. An entire lake, 20 million tons of water, crashed down the Conemaugh valley through a half dozen towns on its way to Johnstown, Pennsylvania.”
“It wiped out nearly everything in between, but by many accounts, Johnstown suffered the most gruesome and disturbing fate of all.”
“It was 4:00. At half past 3, there had been a Johnstown. Now, there was none.”
“June first, 1889. That morning opened dark and dreary. Great drops of rain fell occasionally and another storm seemed imminent. Everyone felt thankful that the weather remained cold to slow the decay of the bodies lying everywhere.” – all from The American Experience The Johnstown Flood
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The American Red Cross was formed in 1881 and this was the second major disaster relief effort since they formed. They were led at the time by Clara Barton who had learned about the Red Cross in Europe during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1881, the Red Cross responded to the Great Fire of 1881 in Michigan which left 5,000+ people homeless. Then came this disaster with thousands dead and thousands more injured. Support came from all over the US as well as 18 foreign nations. Barton arrived on June 5 and stayed for more than five months to help the shattered town recover. Even after surviving the flood, the victims suffered defeat in the courts when they tried to recover damages from the owners of the dam. American law changed from a fault-based premise to one of strict liability.
May 30, 1989: A 33 foot tall statue called Goddess of Democracy is unveiled. The statue was built by students from the Central Academy of Fine Arts and took four days to produce. The statue was made of Styrofoam and papier-mâché over a metal framework. Its creators took inspiration from Vera Mukhinas’ Worker and Kolkhoz Woman. It was hoped the unveiling would bolster the enthusiasm of those demonstrating against an oppressive government.
The statue stood for only five days before it was destroyed. The most memorable vision from this confrontation between intellectuals seeking freedom and a government loathe to give up control would take place within days. Since 1989, several replicas of the statue have been erected in her honor. She has become an iconic figure of liberty, free speech, and democracy. None have had a more reverential following than this Goddess erected in Tiananmen Square in the face of the Communist Regime.
The Tiananmen Square protest began April 17 when tens of thousands of students spontaneously gathered there to mourn the death of General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Yoabang – a man felt to be incorruptible and pro reform. The crowds grew to more than 100,000 and on April 22 students petitioned to meet with Chinese Premiere Li Peng, to no avail. An April 26 editorial denouncing the students only set off more rioting. The imbroglio came to the world’s attention by early May.
As time marched on, students began going back to classes, disenchanted. On May 13, 160 students began a hunger strike hoping to catch Mikhail Gorbachev’s attention during a scheduled visit. Political repercussions ensued with Martial Law declared on May 19. The army was being sent to Tiananmen Square to restore order. The assault began on June 3 as troops converged on the square. Over the next two days hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed and thousands more were injured. The vision that comes to mind when this struggle is mentioned is that of a lone man standing in the street, in front of a line a tanks, moving from side to side and blocking their way. Tank Man did not persuade them to stop and his identity has never been disclosed.
“At this grim moment, what we need most is to remain calm and united in a single purpose. We need a powerful cementing force to strengthen our resolve: That is the Goddess of Democracy.” – from the Declaration displayed with the Goddess of Democracy
“I myself envision a day when another replica, as large as the original and more permanent, stands in Tiananmen Square, with the name of those who died there written in gold on its base. It may well stand there after Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum has, in its turn, been pulled down.” – Tsao Tsing-yuan
“When we can make democracy work, we won’t have to force it down other people’s throats. If it really is such a good idea, and if they can see it working, they will steal it.” – Dick Gregory
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Chai Ling was born in China in 1966 and was a student participating in the Tiananmen Square movement. The number of students declined and Ling was disenchanted with the difficulties of keeping the Movement together, so she resigned. The square no longer was a meeting place for high minded people, but a squalid, sewer reeking stagnant area where the struggle for democracy was seemingly lost. The unveiling of the statue revitalized the Movement. Ling fled China in 1990 with help from Hong Kong. After hiding for ten months, she settled in France. She was given a scholarship to Princeton. Today, Ling (who received her MLA from Princeton University and her MBA from Harvard) is the founder of All Girls Allowed, a humanitarian organization trying to restore value to females in China. She is also President and COO of Jenzabar, an Internet company she founded in 1998.
May 29, 1954: The Bilderberg Group holds their first conference. The Bilderberg Group (Club or Conference) met the first year at the Hotel de Bilderberg near Arnhem in The Netherlands and was named after the venue. The group of influential personages meets yearly. The invitation-only conference seats around 150 powerful world citizens. The venue changes yearly. The hosting nations are predominantly European and once every four years the meeting is held in North America. The 2007 meeting was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Istanbul, Turkey while the 2008 conference was held at Chantilly, Virginia in the US. The 2009 conference was in Athens, Greece from May 14 to 16.
The group met for the first time after Joseph Retinger proposed a meeting to discuss world issues, especially anti-Americanism in Western Europe. Retinger, a politically minded individual, approached Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands who agreed to help promote the idea. Eventually, the planners contacted powers in the US. A guest list was drawn up with two people invited from each country; one conservative and one liberal person to ensure all points of view were covered. The first meeting was successful and the event became an annual affair.
Attendees include central bankers, defense experts, media moguls, government ministers, international financiers, and political leaders including prime ministers and royalty. Because of the powerful positions held by the attendees, they are seen as the elite of the elite. There are some who claim the 3 to 4-day meetings set world policy and fears of conspiracy abound. Journalists have been invited to the conference and have denied the conspiracy charges saying the conference is not any different than other seminars.
With so many influential people congregating in one place, it is impossible to quell rumors. The group retains privacy for most sessions to encourage open and frank discussion leading the jaded and cynical to outrageous charges. The Bilderberg Group has been accused of regulating banking and world markets to the detriment of the common man. Some accuse them of liberal conspiracy plots while others point to conservative conspiracies. Others claim the group is encouraging, via the press, citizens around the world to give up their hard-won democratic rights. The lunatic fringe insists the policy of inviting both liberals and conservatives somehow proves conspiracy. Both Bill Clinton (1991) and Tony Blair (1993) have attended conferences.
“Bilderberg is the most useful international group I ever attended. The confidentiality enabled people to speak honestly without fear of repercussions. In my experience the most useful meetings are those when one is free to speak openly and honestly. It’s not unusual at all. Cabinet meetings in all countries are held behind closed doors and the minutes are not published.” – Lord Healey
“There need to be places where these people can think about the main challenges ahead, co-ordinate where policies should be going, and find out where there could be a consensus.” – Professor Kees van der Pijl
“The idea that a shadowy clique is running the world is nothing new. For hundreds of years people have believed the world is governed by a cabal of Jews.” – Alasdair Spark
“My main problem is the secrecy. When so many people with so much power get together in one place I think we are owed an explanation of what is going on.” – Tony Gosling
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The Bilderberg Group held meetings in Spain, Switzerland, and the US (again at Chantilly) since this article first appeared. Henri de Castries is chairman of the steering committee and has been since 2001. Bill Clinton (as noted above) as well as Gerald Ford have attended, Ford twice (1964 and 1966). Four US Senators have participated (Tom Daschle, John Edwards, Chuck Hagel, and Sam Nunn). There have been five US governors attending as well, all in this century. There have been six princes (including Prince Charles in 1986) who have attended, one of them now the King of the Netherlands. There were two kings in attendance and two queens. Queen Beatrix (the Netherlands) has attended more than any other royal – eight times.
Also on this day The Top of the World – In 1953 Mount Everest in conquered.
Empress of Ireland – In 1914, nearly a thousand people died when the ship sank.
I’m Dreaming – In 1942, Bing Crosby recorded a song.
May 28, 1999: After 21 years of restorative work, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is placed back on display. The painting was made on dry plaster rather than wet, so it is not a true fresco. A fresco cannot be modified as the artist works. Da Vinci therefore sealed a stone wall with pitch, gesso, and mastic (two types of resins and a chalky substance) and then painted with tempura, a type of paint made by mixing the color in an egg medium. Because of the method used, the mural began to deteriorate quickly after completion.
The painting is 15 feet by 29 feet and was painted on the back walls of the dining hall at Santa Maria della Grazie, a convent in Milan, Italy during the years 1495-1498 (it is thought). As early as 1517, the paint was flaking. By 1556 the work was described as “ruined” and the figures deemed unrecognizable. In 1652 a doorway was cut through the wall, further damaging the mural and has since been bricked up again. There have been many restorations, beginning in 1726. The building itself sustained damage, being bombed during World War II.
The painting was done portraying each of the disciples as they reacted to Jesus’ prediction that one of his 12 chosen would betray him. There are four groups of three disciples with Jesus at the center. Bartholomew, James – son of Alphaeus, and Andrew (all surprised); Judas Iscariot, Peter, and John (Judas withdrawn, Peter angry, and John swooning); Thomas, James the Greater, and Philip (Thomas upset, James stunned, and Philip seeking an explanation); and Matthew, Jude Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot (the first two turned to Simon looking for clarification).
By the late 1970s, the mural was in terrible shape. For 21 years (1978-1999) Pinin Brambilla Barcilon led a major restoration project. Since it was not possible to move the artwork, the venue itself was altered to produce a controlled environment to protect the work. The use of infrared reflectoscopy and microscopic core samples along with original sketches guided the restoration. The painting can now be viewed by appointment only and the visitor is permitted to stay for only 15 minutes.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
“Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation … even so does inaction sap the vigour of the mind.”
“Where there is shouting, there is no true knowledge.” – all from Leonardo da Vinci
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, is presumed to be the sponsor for this work. He lived from 1452 until 1508 and was the patron for the Milanese Renaissance. Ludovico was the fourth son of Francesco I Sforza and his older brother assumed control of Milan at their father’s death. Galeazzo was not well received and after his assassination in 1476, there was a struggle for power between Gian, his seven year old son, and Ludovico, his brother. Despite the boy’s mother’s attempts, Ludovico wrested power and ruled over Milan for the next 13 years as regent. Leonardo da Vinci helped plan the wedding of Ludovico and Beatrice d’Este in 1491. The couple had two children (and Ludovico also had two other illegitimate children). He died as a prisoner of the French at the castle of Loches at the age of 55.
Also on this day It Can’t Be Done – In 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge is opened to traffic.
Sierra Club – In 1892, John Muir became the club’s first president.
Five – In 1934, the Dionne quintuplets were born.
May 27, 1703: Tsar Peter the Great founds Saint Petersburg. The Great Northern War was fought 1700-1721 between Sweden and Russia over control of the Baltic Sea. On May 1, 1703, Peter the Great took the Swedish fortress at Nyen on the Neva River. The fort was located at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. To celebrate the victory, the Tsar built a city on the site and named it after his patron saint, the apostle Saint Peter. The city has also been called Petrograd (1914-1924) and Leningrad (1924-1991). It is often called simply Petersburg or informally, Peter.
Dostoevsky called the city “premeditated.” It was built under adverse conditions. The land itself is relatively new and was known for “devastating floods, abominable winds, and mosquitoes.” To build here was ludicrous. The mortality rate was high and 40,000 serfs were conscripted yearly, one for every 9 to 16 households. They were forced to provide their own tools and food. The men were chained together to deter desertion and marched hundreds of miles on foot. Many managed to escape and more died from disease and exposure.
The first building to be completed was the Peter and Paul Fortress. The marshland was drained and building continued. Peter hired engineers and craftsmen from all over Europe to help build his new city. With the influx of educated foreigners, Saint Petersburg became a very cosmopolitan city. It also became the capital of Russia and remained so for 200 years. Today, 4.5 million people live in Saint Petersburg. The city proper is 234 square miles while the greater metropolitan area, the federal subject, is 556 square miles and includes another 9 suburban towns and 21 municipal settlements.
Saint Petersburg is a city of bridges. The area includes 64 rivers and 48 canals with 800 bridges spanning them (more bridges than even Venice boasts). It is the largest European city not a capital and the 4th largest after Paris, Moscow, and London. There are more than 250 museums in Petersburg. There are more than 80 theaters, about 1,800 libraries (most in schools but 190 national public libraries included). There are over 3,000 culture and performing groups and clubs and almost 80 recreational centers. There are over 100 concert organizations. It is truly a cosmopolitan city with much to see and do.
“Old St Petersburg remains a beautiful stage set but to the Russians it is not what Rome is to the Italians or Paris to the French. The decisions are made in the Kremlin. The city of Peter remains a museum, open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.” – Joseph Wechsberg
“The duality of St Petersburg and Leningrad remains. They are not even on speaking terms.” – Joseph Wechsberg
“[Leningrad] sits astride the Neva, frozen in time, a haunting mélange of pale hues, glorious façades and teeming ghosts.” – Serge Schmemann
“I have conquered an empire but I have not been able to conquer myself.” – Peter The Great
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Peter the Great was born in 1682 and was of the House of Romanov. He ruled the Tsardom of Russia and later the Russian Empire beginning in 1682, just before his tenth birthday. Feodor III was sickly and weak and took over the rule in 1676 when Tsar Alexis, their father, died. Feodor died in 1682 and was childless. Ivan V was really next in line but he was both sick in mind and body. Since he was unfit for rule, it was then that ten year old Peter was selected to be co-head of state. Until 1696 when Ivan died, the rule was held jointly by Peter and his half-brother. Peter would eventually marry twice and father 14 children with his wives. Only three of them survived to adulthood. His oldest son, Alexei, was suspected of trying to overthrow his father and under torture confessed. He died, probably of his injuries from being tortured, before he could be executed.
Also on this day No More Burnt Toast – In 1919 a toaster with a timer is patented.
Model T & A – In 1927, Ford Motor Co. began the switch from Model T to Model A.
Centralia – In 1962, a fire that is still burning was started.
May 26, 1805: Napoleon “the Little Corporal” Bonaparte is crowned King of Italy. Bonaparte took command of the French “Army of Italy” in 1796. He rid Lombardi of her Austrian rulers and then took over two Papal States. Ignoring orders, he marched on Rome and took the Pope prisoner. His first Italian assault is often deemed to be his greatest campaign. His army captured 160,000 prisoners, 2,000 cannons and 170 flags.
In May 1798, Napoleon proposed that Egypt be brought under French control to undermine British access to India. Along with military and political staff, Bonaparte included 167 scientists in his expedition confirming his devotion to the principles of the Enlightenment. While there were many discoveries were made, including the Rosetta Stone, but the Egyptian campaign was not truly successful.
Bonaparte returned to France and continued to advance and win battles. He and others orchestrated a coup d’état and overthrew the constitutional government. Bonaparte, ever the brilliant strategist, maneuvered himself into the position of First Consul. He continued to broker agreements and tried to reconcile with the Catholic Church. He also worked to codify criminal and commercial law.
By 1800, Napoleon returned to Italy and evicted the Austrians again – they had returned while Bonaparte was in Egypt. All of his campaigns were straining the coffers and to help finance his increased costs, he sold off property in the Americas in 1803. The US made the Louisiana Purchase for only three cents per acre. This not only improved Bonaparte’s economic position, but also gave him one less front to defend. In 1804 he was declared Emperor in Paris. Continuing to amass titles, he was crowned with the Iron Crown of Lombardy, an ancient royal insignia of Europe. The coronation took place in the Duomo di Milano cathedral in Milan, Italy. Napoleon remained King of Italy until 1814.
“I can no longer obey; I have tasted command, and I cannot give it up.”
“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”
“Religion is what keeps the poor man from murdering the rich.”
“If you start to take Vienna – take Vienna.”
“He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.” – all from Napoleon Bonaparte
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The Rosetta Stone was carved in 196 BC on the orders of King Ptolemy V. It is a granodiorite stele (a rock slab or pillar similar to granite) and gives the proclamation in three scripts. The upper text is written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion is Demotic script, and the lowest portion is written in ancient Greek. Since the text is essentially the same between the three languages, this stone provided a way to understand the ancient hieroglyphs. What we have in our possession is just part of the original stele. No other pieces have ever been located. The hieroglyphs suffered the most damage and only the last fourteen lines can be seen and they are only partially extant. Because it was key to translating the ancient script, the term has become common to idiomatically convey the notion of a key to translate from an unknown script to a known language.
Also on this day Who Was That? – In 1828 a strange teenager is found on the streets.
Sailing to Oblivion – In 1854, Khufu or Cheops’ ship was discovered.
Alse Young – In 1647, Alse was hung as a witch.
May 25, 1953: America bombs Nevada. The Nevada Test Site is located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The 1,350 square miles region is desert with mountains and is owned by the US Department of Energy. They began testing nuclear devices on January 27, 1951 with a one-kiloton (4 terajoule) bomb. Between 1951 and 1992 there were 928 announced nuclear tests, 828 of them underground. Some tests included multiple explosions. There have been 1,021 detonations, 921 of them underground.
This day’s test was called “Grable” and was the first and only testing of nuclear artillery. It was part of an overall series of tests called “Operation Upshot-Knothole.” The Atomic Cannon fired a 280 mm shell while many high-ranking officers watched. Nuclear artillery is nuclear weaponry launched from the ground. They can be delivered by guns, rockets, or missiles. They include nuclear landmines, depth charges, torpedoes, demolition munitions, anti-aircraft weapons, and artillery. They have been developed by the US, USSR, France, and India. Dirty bombs, or radioactive dispersal devices, are speculative weapons and not included as artillery.
Mushroom clouds billowing up from nuclear explosions and seen in films around the globe, are usually images filmed during the era of aboveground testing. The last of these was held on July 17, 1962. Underground testing continued until 1992. The site remains under the Department of Energy. They offer tours of the grounds after visitors pass a rigorous screening process. There are restrictions during the tour (no pictures, no guns, no samples removed from the site). The usual screening process takes 6 weeks, longer for foreigners.
The Nevada Test Site has 28 separate areas with 1,100 buildings. There are 400 miles of paved roads and 300 miles of unpaved roads. There are also 10 heliports and 2 airstrips included. There are no longer nuclear tests taking place, but research continues with subcritical testing of America’s aging nuclear arsenal. They also maintain a nuclear waste complex in Area 5 for low-level radioactive waste with a half life of less than 20 years.
“We are now getting more than 600 cases of cancer a year and more than 250 deaths because of these tests. There are 31 possible cancers linked with nuclear matter and some can take 20 to 30 years to develop.” – Roland Oldham
“The U.S. has no plans to conduct a nuclear test. President [George W.] Bush supports a continued moratorium on nuclear testing.” – Irene Smith
“It’s a lot easier to hit one of our own targets on a test range than it is for them to actually intercept nuclear-tipped missiles in a combat environment.” – John Pike
“Without going through a lot of detail, the issue of ownership of the land area occupied by the Nevada Test Site, and for that matter very large sections of Nevada and Utah, is very complex (going back to the Ruby Valley Treaty) and in our eyes has been resolved.” – Kevin Rohrer
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Operation Upshot-Knothole was a 1953 series of eleven nuclear test shots. The maximum yield was 61 kilotons of TNT or 260 TJ (terajoules). There were two UCRL tests that were classed as a “fizzle” meaning they didn’t work so well. There was a total of 252.4 kilotons exploded between March 17 (Annie) and June 4 (Climax). Harry was the name of the test run on May 19 and it resulted in extreme contamination of downwinders, these are the unfortunate people who are exposed to radioactive material contamination or nuclear fallout from nuclear testing. Operation Ivy (two tests in November 1952) preceded this series of tests and they were followed by Operation Castle (six tests between March and May of 1954).
Also on this day “Swede” Momsen – In 1967, submariner Swede Momsen dies.
Halley’s Comet – In 240 BC, Halley’s Comet was first documented.
The Fastest Man in the World – In 1935, Jesse Owens ran quickly.
May 24, 1958: News agencies United Press (UP) and International News Service (INS) merge to form United Press International (UPI). Headquartered in the US, the news agency’s roots date from 1907. E. W. Scripps created the first chain of newspapers in the US. The Associated Press (AP) was formed by a group of New York City newspapers in 1846. The AP could then pool resources and provide more in-depth and accurate news from Europe. The AP refused to sell their services to several Scripps papers. So Scripps merged three regional press agencies into UP and began service on June 21, 1907.
Scripps did not limit who could purchase the service. Scripps felt the members-only philosophy of the AP was nothing less than a monopoly. Scripps also felt local editors knew more about their local markets and they were given remarkable latitude. His papers were successful and he moved to San Diego in 1898. UP was the only privately-owned major news agency at the time. AP was a conglomerate and most European agencies were run by the government; France had Havas, Britain had Reuters, and Germany had Wolff. In 1909, William Randolph Hearst came forward with INS.
Frank Bartholomew took over as President of UP in 1955 and became “obsessed” with bringing INS into UP. In order to keep anti-trust suits at bay, United Features Syndicate remained a separate company. Today called United Media, they syndicate 150 comics and editorial columns worldwide. The newly formed UPI had 6,000 employees and 5,000 subscribers, 1,000 of them newspapers. Later in the year they began UPI Audio Networks, the first wire service radio network. By 1960, they were also providing a television film service.
The UPI was not able to charge fees at the same rate as AP. With increasing TV news shows and a decline in afternoon newspapers, their customer base dropped. There were seven different owners between 1992 and 2000. In 2000, News World Communications bought UPI. Sun Myung Moon’s global conglomerate helps promote his Unification Church. Today there are only 5 reporters in the Washington, DC headquarters with several dozen stringers filing stories from around the world. With a web presence at UPI.com, UPI reaches 1.8 million unique visitors each month. They continue to provide news, photos, and video.
“Far more thought and care go into the composition of any prominent ad in a newspaper or magazine than go into the writing of their features and editorials.” – Marshall McLuhan
“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.” – George Orwell
“No American newspaper will print anything contrary to its own interests.” – George Bernard Shaw
“Editor: A person employed on a newspaper whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed.” – Elbert Hubbard
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Edward Willis Scripps was born in 1854 in Illinois. His father was from London; his mother was the third wife. Edward was the fifth child of this union and he had seven half siblings as well. Edward and his half-sister, Ellen, worked for an older half-brother, James, when James founded The Detroit News in 1873. By 1878, Edward used a loan from James to move to Cleveland and start The Penny Press (later the Cleveland Press). He went on to purchase or begin 25 more newspapers. Edward lent money to promising local newspaper publishers. If they were successful, he would buy a 51% share of the paper and thus expanded his E. W. Scripps Company.
May 23, 1701: William “Captain” Kidd is hanged. Captain Kidd is probably one of the best know pirates of all time. However, some new evidence has come to light that supports the idea that he was not a pirate at all, but a privateer. The difference lies in a technicality. A pirate is someone who commits robbery on the high seas. A privateer is a pirate with a commission or authorization of a government or sovereign. Privateering was an accepted part of naval warfare from the 16th to 19th centuries.
William was a Scottish sailor born around 1645 and was a “trusted and well beloved” captain by 1695 when a group of wealthy Whig English noblemen asked Kidd, through a governor in the colonies, to attack several known pirates and any enemy French ships he encountered. Kidd commanded the Adventure Galley, a 284 ton ship with 34 cannons and oars – making it perfect for the task of capturing pirate ships.
Kidd and his crew failed to salute a British Navy ship before even leaving London. The ship was boarded and many of the crew were pressed into service for the Navy. Kidd sailed away shorthanded but captured some French ships and pressed sailors from those crews into service on his ship, bringing his staff up to the required numbers. Eventually escaped prisoners alleged Kidd’s cruelty but it may have been his mutinous crew who were inhumane. He remained at sea for years, spanning most of the globe, and as he was returning to New York City he found out he was wanted for piracy.
One of the original investors offered Kidd protection and then took him as prisoner back to England, hoping to save himself from accusations of piracy. Kidd refused to name his backers. A Tory regime was now in charge. Kidd thought he would be rewarded for his silence. Instead he was charged not only with piracy, but murder as well. His Whig backers, afraid of repercussions, made sure Kidd’s funds were depleted and Kidd stood trial without representation. He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to hang. The first attempt to hang the Captain ended with the rope breaking. Kidd was hanged again, this time successfully, and his body left in a cage above the Thames to act as a warning to others.
“Pirates who were hired by many countries, especially in times of war, were businessmen and capitalists of every background searching for a profit in the Atlantic Ocean. Governments armed pirates’ ships and directed the pirates to attack ships of other warring countries.” – Frank Lambert
“It must have been quite a sight as that big pirate ship came loose and ran aground during the hurricane.” – Paul Collins
“If you can’t find something here, you can’t find it anywhere, … There’s a pirate in everyone!”” – Michael Egan
“With the first ‘Pirates,’ we believe we elevated pirates to pirate chic. It’s not about the pirates you knew about 10 years ago. It just seemed these things were meant to be together, these movies and this race.” – Donald Evans
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Piracy is the name of a specific crime under customary international law as well as a number of crimes under municipal or state law. Privateering was commerce raiding and outlawed by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 by the signatories of those documents. There is no beginning date for this crime, but it is assumed that piracy developed at the same time as seafaring commerce. The first recording about piracy comes from the Sea Peoples threating the Aegean and Mediterranean in the 14th century BC. In classic antiquity both the Illyrians and Tyrrhenians were considered pirates but so were the Greeks and Romans. The Phoenicians also used piracy to obtain boys and girls sold into slavery.
Also on this day Patience and Fortitude – In 1911 the main Research Library of the New York Public Library is dedicated.
Two for the Price of One – In 1785, Ben Franklin claimed to have invented bifocals.
Squeezebox – In 1829, a patent for an accordion was granted to Cyrill Demian.
May 22, 1842: Lester Howe goes to investigate why his cows stand at the bottom of the hill in the hot summer months. Lester owned a farm about 40 miles west of Albany, the capital of New York. Lester’s cows grazed in the same spot during heat waves. Lester went to investigate the area and a strong, cool breeze came from behind a stand of bushes. He dug out the bushes and found an entrance to a cave. He and his neighbor, Henry Wetsel, excavated and explored the find. The entrance was on Henry’s property and Lester bought the land in February 1843 for $100 (≈ $2,200 today).
The cave was opened to visitors in 1843 and as business improved, a hotel was built over the entrance. Howe ran into financial difficulties and sold part of his land and then a limestone quarry purchased the remainder. Since the quarry owned the property with the natural entrance, the Howe Caverns were closed to the public. In 1927, an organization formed to re-open the caverns. They spent two years creating a second entrance. They installed elevators, brick walks, lighting, and handrails. The site re-opened on Memorial Day in 1929.
The caverns reach 156 feet below the surface. The walls are made from two types of limestone (Coeymans and Manilus) from two different periods of Earth’s history, as well as rock called Rondout waterred. The rock layers formed during the Silurian and Devonian periods more than 400 million years ago. There are few fossils, indicating the rocks are older than most fossils. However long ago they started, the caverns are still “under construction.” Water continues to ooze, seep, drip, and flow changing ever so slowly, the cavern’s configuration.
There is little biological life in the caverns. Some mold has grown around the lights and a few bats live near the unused natural entrance. Stalagmites (Speleothems) form in the caverns as carbon dioxide and water combine and dissolve limestone while gravity draws everything down. When the water reaches a cave, the carbon dioxide is released and the calcite re-deposits on the walls, ceilings, and floors. Tours at Howe Caverns are given every day. The tour takes about 80 minutes and includes walking and a boat ride. The tour takes the visitors past the Bridal Altar (almost 600 weddings have been performed there). The caverns remain at a constant 52⁰ F and there is 70-75% humidity at all times, so dress appropriately.
“Howe charged fifty cents to take early adventurers on a torch-lit, 8-10 hour caverns tour.” – Dana Cudmore
“While the precise year is unknown, sometime between 1910-1925, the first charges in the limestone walls of the quarry face blasted into Howe’s Cave. Today, visitors see less than half of the original underground passage.” – Dana Cudmore
“Scientists believe nature began to slowly craft Howe Caverns some six million years ago – long before even the ancient, extinct animal known as the woolly mammoth appeared on Earth. The caverns are unique for more than their age and beauty – they are among a very small number of mineral caves in the world.” – from Howe Caverns website
“Caves may seem eternal, having been around for hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. But every cave is sensitive, whether open to the public as a show cave or an undeveloped wild cave.” – from Howe Caverns website
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Limestone is a sedimentary rock made up largely of calcite and aragonite. About 10% of the total volume of sedimentary rock is limestone. It is used for such various purposes at building materials and the whitening ingredient in toothpaste. When metamorphism takes place, recrystallization occurs and marble is formed. Pure white marble comes from very pure (silicate-poor) limestone or dolomite protolith. Marble with swirls and veins shows the impurities in the protolith such as clay, silt, sand, iron oxides, or chert. Green marble is from limestone with a high magnesium content. The word marble comes from the Greek for “crystalline rock” or “shining stone” or perhaps from the verb which means “to flash, sparkle, or gleam”.
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