June 30, 1859: Charles Blondin crosses Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Blondin was born in St. Omer, France in 1824. At the age of five, he was sent to École de Gymnase in Lyon by his gymnast father. After only six months of training, he made his first public appearance with the name “The Little Wonder.” His naturally graceful moves along with learned skills made him a favorite attraction. He also was said to have a charismatic personality, did everything in a grand way, and was a true showman.
Blondin’s showmanship abilities along with fearless daring led him to increasingly dangerous undertakings. By the age of 35, playing to international audiences, he crossed the Falls on a tightrope 3 inches thick, 1,100 feet long and 160 feet above the water. Once he had crossed the Falls, he needed to keep the audiences wowed and devised ever more bizarre crossings. He crossed blindfolded, in a sack, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying his manager – Harry Colcord – on his back, and stopping midway and sitting down to cook and eat an omelet.
Niagara Falls had already been used in a spectacular feat of daring or stupidity, depending on your viewpoint. Sam Patch in October 1829 jumped from a high tower into the gorge below the falls and survived. Captain Matthew Webb, the first man to swim the English Channel, drowned in 1883 along with two others as a group of men attempted to swim across the whirlpools and eddies downstream from the Falls. Seven others in the fateful group gave up before being killed by the swirling waters.
Going over the falls in a barrel is now illegal from both the US and Canadian side and heavily fined. However, in 1901, 63-year-old Annie Taylor was the first to survive going over the falls in a barrel which she did as a publicity stunt. Since then, 14 others have gone over the falls with or without a device and with or without surviving. On July 9, 1960, 7-year-old Roger Woodward was swept over the falls and was plucked from the waters at the bottom by the crew from the Maid of the Mist, a tour boat cruising under the falls. Roger’s 17-year-old sister had been pulled from the water just a few feet before she, too, would have been swept over the falls.
“No one should ever try that again.” – Annie Taylor, after going over Niagara Falls in a barrel
“In the beginning you must subject yourself to the influence of nature. You must be able to walk firmly on the ground before you start walking of a tightrope.” – Henri Matisse
“If you had a friend who was a tightrope walker, and you were walking down a sidewalk, and he fell, that would be completely unacceptable…” – Mitch Hedberg
“Actors say they do their own stunts for the integrity of the film but I did them because they looked like a lot of fun.” – Steve Coogan
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Niagara Falls is actually three different waterfalls straddling the border between Canada and the US. Ontario is on the Canadian side while New York is on the US side. The Horseshoe Falls is the largest of the three falls and are on the Canadian side. The American Falls are, appropriately, on the American side. The Bridal Veil Falls are also on the American side and separated from the larger falls by Luna Island. The Niagara River drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The combined falls have the highest flow rate of any water fall in the world but there are other measurements to create a variety of biggest and best waterfalls. Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America measure by both height (165 feet) and flow rate. The average flow rate shows more almost four million cubic feet of water going over the falls each minute with that reaching over six million cubic feet when the water is high.
June 29, 1888: Part of George Frideric Handel’s Israel in Egypt is recorded on a wax cylinder, the first (known) classical music recording. The great composer lived from 1685 to 1759. Israel in Egypt was written in 1738. The biblical oratorio was not well received at the time of its premiere and was reworked with sections deleted and others added. The recording was made by Col. George Gouraud at The Crystal Palace in London. The recording was made using Thomas Edison’s yellow paraffin cylinder. It is badly degraded and little can still be heard.
The cylinder method of sound recording was used from 1888 to 1915. The cylinders had the recording engraved on the outside and playback was achieved via a mechanical phonograph. Edison invented the system to record telephone messages. He first used wax paper successfully on July 18, 1877. He then used tin foil wrapped around a cylinder. Next came the use of wax cylinders. They were mass marketed in the 1880s. A soft wax was used and the recordings would wear out after a few dozen replays.
In 1890, Charles Tainter patented carnauba wax cylinders. The harder wax replaced the mixture of paraffin and beeswax. The early phonographs could both record and play back selections. When the soft wax cylinders no longer replayed recordings, the wax could be smoothed over and a new recording made. The 4 inch long cylinders were about 2 ¼ inches in diameter and held about two minutes of music. Eventually, with continued improvements, the cylinders could be played more than 100 times before the sound degraded.
The cylinders came in cardboard tubes with lids at either end. The cardboard protected the recordings. Record companies had a standard label affixed to their products and there was no indication of title or artist on the label. That information was written by hand on the lid. Later, a number was stamped on the lid and finally the name of the artist and title of the work were printed and glued to the lids. The cylinders were in competition with the disk method of recording and eventually, the disks won.
“Musical compositions, it should be remembered, do not inhabit certain countries, certain museums, like paintings and statues. The Mozart Quintet is not shut up in Salzburg: I have it in my pocket.” – Henri Rabaud
“There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.” – William P. Merrill
“Music is the universal language of mankind.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory.” – Oscar Wilde
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Charles Tainter was born in Massachusetts in 1854. His formal education was meager, but the curious boy taught himself. He was hired by Alvan Clark and Sons Company which produced telescopes. They were under contract with the US Navy and Tainter was sent to New Zealand to observe the transit of Venus in 1874. Upon his return to the states, he opened his own shop and produced scientific instruments. He met Alexander Graham Bell and eventually went to work for him. After 1886 he worked on perfecting his graphophone and produced the first Dictaphone. He caught pneumonia in 1888 and was sickly for the rest of his life. Regardless, he perfected many of the products used for sound recording and is often called the Father of the Speaking Machine. He died in 1940, shortly before his 86th birthday.
Also on this day: I Love You Lighthouse – In 1860, the last stone to the I Love You lighthouse was placed.
Pygmy Mammoth – In 1994, the first near-complete pygmy mammoth fossil was found.
Globe Gone – In 1613, the London theater burned down.
June 28, 2000: Elián González returns to Cuba. It is only 90 miles from Cuba to Key West, Florida, but it is a world of difference politically and ideologically. Fidel Castro’s Cuba was oppressive. Cubans found at sea by either the US or Cuba were returned to Cuba. Usually, if the fugitives could make landfall, they were permitted to stay. This was called the “wet feet, dry feet” rule. Fugitives who were returned to Communist Cuba were monitored by the US Interest Section in Havana. The distance from Cuba to Miami is about twice as far as to Key West. Miami is 34% Cuban, about 1.7 million people, and is the usual destination for refugees.
In November 1999 Elián, his mother, and 12 others left Cuba on a small boat with a defective engine. The motor broke and all aboard tried to bail out water pouring in during a storm. Elián, only 5-years-old, was set in an inner tube for safety. He fell asleep and awoke to a nightmare. The boat sunk in the 10-13 feet waves. The refugees clung to inflated rubber floats as long as they could. Only three people survived the storm. Elián’s mother died at sea. The survivors were picked up by fisherman who turned them over to the US Coast Guard. According to the wet feet, dry feet rule, they should have been sent back to Cuba.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) handed the young boy over to his paternal great-uncle, Lázaro González. Elián’s father, Juan Miguel, had called his uncle in Miami telling the older man that Elián and his mother had left Cuba without his knowledge and to be on the lookout for them. With the backing of the Cuban-American population in Miami, the US Gonzálezes fought to keep the young boy in the States. They claimed his mother had sacrificed her life to get her son to freedom.
The fate of the young boy captured the nation’s heart. In January, the boy’s grandmothers flew to Miami to ask for his return to Cuba. Juan Miguel wrote open letters to the US asking for his son’s return. Legal battles were waged, won, or lost. Early on April 22, 2000 SWAT-equipped agents and 130 INS personnel surrounded the house and Elián was removed at gunpoint. Elián was taken to Andrews Air Force Base and reunited with his father. More legal battles were waged and it was decided Elián was too young to ask for asylum and he was returned to Cuba with his father.
“Asylum seekers are not looking for an asylum, just for a good place to live.” – Loesje
“Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.” – Samuel Adams
“Our first responsibility is to protect the American people and we cannot put on blinders to expect that everyone who seeks asylum does so in good faith.” – Bill Shuster
“These reports are deeply worrying. Asylum seekers are being treated as packages to be processed and removed rather than as very vulnerable human beings.” – Maeve Sherlock
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Elián’s father has been interviewed several times since his son’s return. In 2004, a video of Elián was shown, but Miguel declined having interviews with his son, stating he was afraid of reporters. By the next year Elián himself was interviewed and said Fidel Castro was more than just a friend and like a father to him. In December 2006, Fidel was unable to attend Elián’s birthday party so Raul Castro went in his stead. Earlier that year, the US Court of Appeals affirmed a dismissal of an excessive force lawsuit brought concerning the removal of Elián from his relative’s house. In June 2008 Elián, then 15-years-old, began military school after joining the Young Communist Union of Cuba.
June 27, 1966: Dark Shadows premieres on ABC. The show was created by Dan Curtis and based on an episode called “The House” written by Art Wallace and aired on Goodyear Playhouse in 1957. The original story “bible” had no supernatural elements. The action took place at the Collinswood Mansion, a 40 room house that was built in 1795 by Joshua Collins and trouble brewed within its walls.
Victoria Winters arrived at Collinswood as governess to David Collins. Vicki, an inquisitive young woman, sought out the strange family history. The set was eventually occupied by vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, monsters, witches, and warlocks. Creatures not only traveled through time to both the past and future, but also to a parallel universe. The whole show was portrayed against the eerie background music provided by Robert Colbert.
The soap opera ran until April 2, 1971. In that time, over 200 cast members had appeared in 1,245 30-minute episodes. Due to pre-empted holiday dates, news interruptions, and other vagaries of daytime TV “only” 1,225 shows were aired. One of the reasons for the unparalleled success was an airtime coup. The groundbreaking series ran at 4 PM Eastern / 3 PM Central – a time slot that permitted teenagers just home from school to turn in while adults were busy with household tasks, like making dinner.
The show has gained a cult following and remains in syndication even 30 years after it was cancelled. It was sold on VHS tape and is now available in DVD sets, one of only two soaps to reach this milestone (the other is the Australian Prisoner). There have been unsuccessful attempts to revive the series as well as movies based on Collinswood and its occupants. There is talk of making a new movie and Johnny Depp may get to fulfill a childhood dream and become one of his heroes, Barnabas Collins, the vampire.
“My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning. A journey that I hope will open the doors of life to me and link my past with my future. A journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea high atop Widows’ Hill – a house called Collinwood. A world I’ve never known, with people I’ve never met. People who tonight are still only shadows in my mind, but who will soon fill the days and nights of my tomorrows.” – Dark Shadows opening
“For most men, time moves slowly, oh so slowly, they don’t even realize it. But time has revealed itself to me in a very special way. Time is a rushing, howling wind that rages past me, withering me in a single, relentless blast, and then continues on. I’ve been sitting here passively, submissive to its rage, watching its work. Listen! Time, howling, withering!” – Barnabas Collins
“Of course a woman is going to kill me. I wouldn’t have it any other way!” – Quentin Collins
“I wonder why Willie went in the secret room? Maybe there’s something in there he doesn’t want anyone to see-maybe something… horrible!” – David Collins
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Dan Curtis, nee Daniel Mayer Cherkoss, was born in Connecticut in 1927. While he is famous for this soap opera, he has other credits to his name. His film, The Night Stalker, was the most watched TV movie for many years and it inspired other series as well. He usually used the macabre genre for his many films, but it 1978, he wrote and produced When Every Day Was the Fourth of July, a semi-autobiographical work about growing up in Connecticut. His miniseries The Winds of War was nominated for several Emmy Awards. He directed War and Remembrance, a miniseries to follow The Winds of War. It was split into two series since it was 30 hours in length. It received 15 Emmy nominations and won for best miniseries, special effects, and single camera production editing. Also nominated were best actor (John Gielgud), best actress (Jane Seymour), and best supporting actress (Polly Bergen).
June 26, 1927: Coney Island opens a new ride. Coney Island is now a peninsula at the southern tip of Brooklyn, New York. Coney Island Creek separated the small island from the mainland. Plans to dredge the creek and use it for a ship canal were changed to filling in the creek and creating a contiguous landmass. The Lenape tribe called the island Narrioch. The Dutch settlers called it Conyne Eylandt – meaning rabbit island. After the Civil War, excursion railroads and streetcar lines reached the island and it was soon a vacation spot. Resorts and amusement parks sprang up.
The first carousel on Coney Island was built in 1876. Live musicians provided music while happy customers whirled in a circle. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs went on sale there in 1916. Three main amusement parks as well as many smaller ones helped draw several million people to Coney Island each year. In 1920, the Wonder Wheel was opened. The steel frame Ferris wheel had both stationary and rocking cars, held 144 riders, stood 150 feet high and weighed 2,000 tons. It still runs at Deno’s Park. In 1927, the Cyclone opened on this date. It is one of the oldest wooden roller coasters still operating in the US.
Two roller coasters were already operating successfully on Coney Island. Jack and Irving Rosenthal bought a parcel of land with Giant Racer, the first roller coaster built in the US, sitting on it. They tore down the coaster and paid Vernon Keenan $100,000 ($1.2 million today) to design another one. The cost to build the Cyclone has been listed as both $146,000 ($1.7 million today) and $175,000 ($2 million today). The ride cost a quarter to ride when it opened. Adjusting for inflation, that would be $3 today. It cost $8 to ride the coaster in 2008. The ride is 2,640 feet long with a height of 85 feet. Maximum speed reached is 60 mph and the ride lasts 1 minute and 50 seconds.
Roller coasters were based on ice slides constructed in Russia in the 1600s. Who put the wheels on the sleds is lost to history. France led the way with the first ride with cars that were locked to the track. They also created a ride with 2 cars racing each other and one with a complete circuit all in 1817. In 1846, again in France, a looping coaster (but non-circuit) debuted. In 1885, at Coney Island, a powered chain lift coaster opened for business. The coasters continued to get bigger, faster, and higher. They incorporated more inversions, steeper drops, and added extras such as sounds, floorless cars, and propulsions systems.
“Life is a roller coaster, you have your ups and downs unless you fall off.” – unknown
“I went on a children’s roller coaster once when I was maybe 12-or some age when I was considered a little old to be on a kiddy ride. Absolutely terrified. Thought I was going to die.” – Rachael Leigh
“Everybody likes a roller coaster ride.” – Pete Waterman
“Enthusiasm is NOT the same as just being excited. One gets excited about going on a roller coaster. One becomes enthusiastic about creating and building a roller coaster.” – Bo Bennett
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The Cyclone remains popular even now. There have been three deaths on the ride. The first in 1985 occurred when a 29-year-old man stood up on the ride and hit his head on a crossbeam. The second took place in 1988 when a 26-year-old maintenance worker took a solo ride during his lunch break and stood up as the car began its descent. He fell from the ride and landed 30 feet below on a crossbeam. He died instantly. The last was in 2005 when a 53-year-old man broke several vertebra while riding. He had surgery and died four days later from complications from that. Not all the stories are sad. In 1948, a coal miner with aphonia, the inability to produce vocal sounds, was riding the roller coaster. He had not spoken in years, however, as the cars dropped over the first fall, he said, “I feel sick” and then when the train returned to the station, he fainted after he realized he had spoken.
Also on this day: Helicopters – In 1934, the FW-61 helicopter is flown for the first time.
Pied Piper – In 1284, a piper led 130 children out of Hamelin.
CN Tower – In 1976, the Ontario tower opened to the public.
June 25, 1906: Towards the end of the premiere production of Mam’zelle Champagne at Madison Square Garden, a bizarre murder takes place. Harry K. Thaw was a disturbed man. He was the son of a wealthy coal and railroad baron who was born paranoid and violent, according to his mother. He spent his young life being kicked out of one school after another. After not completing his education, he moved to New York City where he began to use morphine and cocaine.
Evelyn Nesbit was a young model and chorus girl. Her father died, leaving the family in poverty. The beautiful child became the sole support of her remaining family by age 16 when she moved with her mother to NYC. She was part of the Floradora Chorus and a coworker introduced her to married, 47-year-old playboy, Stanford White. Her mother, aware of White’s reputation, nevertheless encouraged the relationship. Evelyn lost her virginity to White who then became disinterested in her. She went on to dating a young John Barrymore. After two pregnancies, she was still childless and now became involved with Harry Thaw.
Thaw and Nesbit had a tumultuous relationship. Thaw was a sadistic man, known for brutally whipping his “dates” as part of foreplay. He and Nesbit went on a European tour and Nesbit finally accepted Thaw’s marriage proposal. Nesbit had confessed to her fiancé about her deflowering by the rogue, White. Thaw was an extremely jealous and possessive man and the knowledge burned within him.
After a chance meeting and knowing that White would attend the same show as the Thaws, Harry prepared himself. He shot White in the face at point blank range three times. Before the trial, Thaw’s mother offered Evelyn both a divorce and $1,000,000 if she would testify that White had abused her and Thaw was merely defending her. She did so and was granted a divorce but never received any money. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined in an asylum. He walked away and left for Canada. He was returned to the States and re-incarcerated after a second trial.
“In jealousy there is more self-love than love.” – François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld
“If malice or envy were tangible and had a shape, it would be the shape of a boomerang.” – Charley Reese
“Jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening.” – Maya Angelou
“The jealous bring down the curse they fear upon their own heads.” – Dorothy Dix
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Harry Thaw’s lawyers tried to get their client released in 1909. However, a witness testified that Thaw was a threat to society. Susan Merrill had rented two different apartments to Thaw between 1902 and 1905. She was more than just a landlady, but also a madam in a deluxe Manhattan brothel and Thaw had used aliases for the leases. However, he brought women to the apartments and brutalized and terrorized them there. A “jeweled whip” was brought into the court but the women were paid by Thaw’s lawyers and did not testify. The 1913 escape was probably planned and carried out under the supervision of Thaw’s mother who helped her son throughout her life. Out of prison in 1916, Thaw kidnapped, beat, and sexually assaulted 19-year-old Frederick Gump. He was back in the insane asylum for this assault until released again in 1924.
Also on this day: Great Star of Africa – In 1905, The Cullinan diamond was discovered.
Last Stand – In 1876, Custer was defeated at Little Bighorn.
Lady Doctor Elena – In 1678, Elena earned the first PhD awarded to a woman.
June 24, 1947: Kenneth Arnold sees something in the clear blue sky. Arnold was a businessman who founded a company selling fire suppression systems. He was also an experienced pilot with more than 9,000 hours in the air. He spent about half his flying time working with Search and Rescue Mercy Flyer missions. He was also a swimmer and diver and as a young man, he tried out for the US Diving team. He was 32 years old in 1947.
Arnold was on a business trip, flying from Chehalis to Yakima – both in the state of Washington. He was piloting a CallAir A-2. He detoured after hearing about a $5,000 (≈ $46,000 today) reward for a lost US Marine Corps C-46 transport plane that had crashed near Mount Rainer. With clear skies and his experience in search and rescue, he went to find the plane. He was flying at ≈ 9,200 feet altitude. At 3 PM, he gave up the search and flew towards his business meeting.
Arnold changed course eastward and saw a flash similar to sun reflecting on a mirror. Looking carefully to assure himself of clear skies, he noted a DC-4 to his left and about 15 miles behind him. About 30 seconds after the first flash, he saw a series of flashes off to his left. He tried many things to test and make sure the flashes were not somehow a reflection from his own plane. The flashes were in a long chain. As the line moved between Arnold and Mt. Rainier, the objects could be seen as in dark profile against the snow-capped mountain. He saw one crescent-shaped object and eight circular-shaped objects.
Arnold used equipment on his plane to take measurements. The objects quickly flew out of range. When he landed at 4 PM in Yakima, he told a friend about his experience. There was corroboration from a prospector on Mt. Adams and there were many others on the ground in Washington who saw something that day. The pilot of the DC-4 was not one of the witnesses. The story was picked up by the press and by June 27 the term “flying saucer” was being used to describe the objects. The Army Air Force investigated and said it was all a mirage. Even so, the hunt for unidentified flying objects really took off.
“This whole thing has gotten out of hand. I want to talk to the FBI or someone. Half the people look at me as a combination of Einstein, Flash Gordon and screwball. I wonder what my wife back in Idaho thinks.” – Kenneth Arnold, June 28, 1947
“We have objects in the sky. . .they have been spotted millions of times worldwide.” – Joe Firmage
“The least improbable explanation is that these things UFO’s are artificial and controlled. My opinion for some time has been that they have an extraterrestrial origin.” – Dr. Maurice Biot
“At no time, when the astronauts were in space were they alone: there was a constant surveillance by UFOs.” – Astronaut Scott Carpenter (Carpenter photographed a UFO while in orbit on May 24, 1962. NASA still has not released the photograph.)
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: UFO or unidentified flying object is any anomaly in the sky (or near the ground, hovering, landing, or taking off). The term can also be UFOB and was officially created in 1953 by the US Air Force as a replacement for other more popular terms which described the shape of the anomaly, usually “discs” or “flying saucers”. Usually, the Air Force would investigate and be able to satisfactorily identify the object so the term was used only for those left unidentified. The term became more popular as the decade advanced. There have been a variety of studies done by both the government and by civilians and they have reached a variety of conclusions about the threat level of UFOs. Some see them as detrimental and some see them as benign. There are some who adhere to a government cover up concerning UFOs and extraterrestrial life.
June 23, 1868: Christopher Latham Sholes receives US patent #79,265 for an improved type-writer. Sholes, born in Pennsylvania in 1819, moved to Wisconsin after completing an apprenticeship in printing. He became a newspaper publisher and politician – serving in both the Wisconsin State Senate and State Assembly. He was also an inventor. He received several patents over the years for various improvements and innovations to the typing machine.
The first patented machine had 10 short keys above 11 longer ones and were described by the inventor as “similar to the key-board of a piano.” The description has 21 keys for 26 letters. His next patent, also from 1868, has 36 keys – digits on the left and letters, alphabetically arranged, on the right. Later patents show keyboard layouts that are more familiar, tiered rows of keys. He is credited with the QWERTY keyboard, a legacy we still revere today.
Sholes sold his patent to the Remington Arms Company in 1872 for $12,000 (≈ $200,000 today). Already successful as an arms and sewing machine manufacturer, Remington started making the first commercial typewriters on March 1, 1873. Remington stopped producing sewing machines and typewriters and continued solely as arms merchants. They sold their typewriter interests to the Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Company, Inc. along with the rights to continue with the Remington name. They still produce office equipment along with electric razors.
Sholes originally had placed the keys on the board in alphabetical order. Typists, after mastering the technique and typing with some speed, kept entangling the keys as they struck against the paper. There are two theories for the new placement of the keys. The first is that it would slow down the typists and reduce key snags. The second is that the new arrangement physically placed the striking keys far enough apart to avoid locking. Since English has no diacritical marks, the keyboard is modified for other languages.
“Don’t be too harsh to these poems until they’re typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction.” – Dylan Thomas
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.” – Isaac Asimov
“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” – English professor, Ohio University
“My two fingers on a typewriter have never connected with my brain. My hand on a pen does. A fountain pen, of course. Ball-point pens are only good for filling out forms on a plane.” – Graham Greene
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Computer keyboards are the progeny of typewriters but they also have teleprinters (or teletype) and keypunches in the “family tree”. Because the keyboard is not just a mechanical device delivering keystrokes to paper, there has to be a conveyance of electromechanical data entered by the user to reach the computer and eventually also the display. This takes more than just striking the keys and delivering ink to the paper rolled through the machine. The early computers would use keypunch devices and eventually migrated to what we think of as our usual input device. Today, we have the convenience of touch pad typing on many of our handheld devices and they often still have the QWERTY layout for the letters.
Also on this day: Mutiny on the Discovery – In 1611, Henry Hudson’s crew mutinies.
Lorena and John – In 1993, domestic violence made the world headlines.
Banff – In 1887, the Rocky Mountains Park Act of Canada was passed.
June 22, 1918: At 3:56 AM a private train pulls into a railroad siding. The 26-car Hagenbeck-Wallace train stopped in order to check a hot box (an overheated axle bearing) on one of the flat cars. Behind the first train was a Michigan Central Railroad troop train. This train was moving 20 empty Pullman cars. Alonzo Sargent, the engineer of the troop train, fell asleep at the throttle. He was already suffering from a lack of sleep when he took some “kidney pills.” The lulling movement of the train caused the engineer to drift off.
Sargent missed the warning signals and his train, running at full throttle or about 35 mph, slammed into the stopped train. The stopped train was bringing the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus, the second largest circus in the country, to town. There were ≈ 400 performers and roustabouts on the old wooden train. The impact of the troop train crushed the caboose and 4 wooden sleeping cars. The kerosene lanterns on board ignited the wreckage. It was the worst circus train accident in the US with 86 people dead and 127 more injured.
Many of those killed in the crash perished within the first 35 seconds. The fire spread through the train burning many of the bodies beyond recognition. On June 26, most of the dead were buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois. A section of the cemetery, called Showman’s Rest, had been purchased by the Showman’s League of America only a few months prior to the accident. The area is surrounded by elephant statues depicted in a symbolic mourning posture.
Crowds had assembled nearby awaiting the circus coming to town and these people rushed to the scene of the crash. It took days for the wreckage to be cleared. The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus cancelled just two performances – the one in Hammond and the one scheduled at their next stop in Monroe, Wisconsin. Competing circuses sent performers to help the bereaved troupe, believing in the adage, “The show must go on.” Alonzo Sargent was found to be the cause of the accident, but criticism was also heaped on the outdated, wooden circus train, as the deteriorated condition of the cars helped to spread the fire.
“This accident was caused by Engineman Sargent being asleep, and from this cause, failing to observe the stop indication of automatic signal 2581, and the warnings of the flagman of the circus train, and to be governed by them.” – finding of the Interstate Commerce Commission
“When I woke up this morning my girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said ‘No, I made a few mistakes.'” – Steven Wright
“There are worse things than looking stupid. Sleeping through life is one of them.” – Laura Preble
“To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.” – William Shakespeare
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus was founded in 1907. It was at that time that Benjamin Wallace (founder of The Great Wallace Show in 1884) purchased from Carl Hagenbeck (founder of the Carl Hagenbeck Circus in 1903) his eponymous circus and combined the two. Carl was born in 1844 and the running of the combined circus fell to Wallace. Carl sued to get his name removed from the combined venture but lost his case. This was not the only disaster to befall the circus. Just five years earlier, they lost 8, elephants, 21 lions and tigers, and 8 performing horses in the Wabash River flood. The circus was sold to others and changed hands as well as combined with a variety of other circuses. Eventually, it ceased operation in 1938 after splitting from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. The Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus former winter home in Peru, Indiana (birthplace of Wallace) is now the Circus Hall of Fame.
June 21, 1948: The Manchester Baby works. The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), or The Baby, was produced at Victoria University of Manchester. It was the world’s first stored-program computer. Frederic C. Williams, Tom Kilburn, and Geoff Tootill fired up the machine and observed the effect. The machine was built to test the Williams Tube (also called the Williams-Kilburn Tube). The cathode ray tube stored 500-1,000 bits of binary data. There are 8 bits to a byte of data and 1,024 bytes in one kilobyte (KB). There are 8,589,934,592 bits in a gigabyte (GB), our normal measurement for storing information today.
The Small Scale machine took up a whole wall of space. It was not built as a functional computer, but only to test the viability of the tube design. There were three programs written for The Baby. The first one was to find the highest proper factor of 218. It took 17 instructions to get to the answer. Baby took 52 minutes and performed 3.5 million operations before arriving at the solution. The device led to the development of the Manchester Mark 1 which in turn directly led to the Ferranti Mark 1, the first commercially available general computer.
Professor Sir F. C. Williams, educated at the University of Manchester and Oxford University, was interested in engineering and worked with electronics. He visited the US and worked with scientists on the ENIAC project. That early computer used cathode ray tubes, but could not store programs. A rebuild of the hardware, sometimes taking days of work, was needed to change the program. Sir Williams concentrated on designing a tube capable of storing data. He returned to Manchester and he and Kilburn developed a tube able to store data over a period of hours, using standard equipment, and housed in a room without harsh temperature restrictions.
Tom Kilburn, a 25-year-old inexperienced scholar, first met Williams during World War II. Kilburn was working with the Telecommunications Research Establishment when he was assigned to work with the older man. After the war, the two continued to work together and finally they developed a specialized tube. They built the SSEM to prove the efficacy and Kilburn wrote the program for the first test. He went on to work with others in creating ever-improved devices leading us into the future – the Age of the Computer.
“… the most exciting time was June 1948 when the first machine worked. Without question. Nothing could ever compare with that.” – Tom Kilburn
“Never let a computer know you’re in a hurry.” – adage
“Computers, huh? I’ve heard it all boils down to just a bunch of ones and zeroes…. I don’t know how that enables me to see naked women, but however it works, God bless you guys.” – Doug Heffernan
“Don’t explain computers to laymen. Simpler to explain sex to a virgin.” – Robert A. Heinlein
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: The Ferranti Mark 1 debuted in February 1951 at the University of Manchester, a month ahead of UNIVAC I arriving at the US Census Bureau. The main improvements of the Mark 1 over its predecessor were the size of the primary and secondary storage as well as a faster multiplier. It also could carry additional instructions. It used a 20-bit word stored as a single line of dots. As electric charges fell to the surface of the Williams tube display, each cathode tube stored 64 rows of dots. Instructions were stored as one word and numbers were stored as two words. Other tubes stored others pieces to the puzzle, including accumulators and registers. There were 4,050 vacuum tubes for the multiplier alone, which was about a quarter of the total number of tubes.
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