Little Bits of History

God, Save the Queen

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 20, 2013
Windsor Castle ablaze

Windsor Castle ablaze

November 20, 1992: Part (100 rooms) of Windsor Castle burns. The castle has ≈ 484,000 square feet of floor space. It is the largest inhabited castle in the world. It is also the oldest continually inhabited castle dating back to William the Conqueror. Queen Elizabeth II lives there many weekends per year but also lives at Buckingham Palace in London and Holyrood Palace in Edinburg. The family maintains Sandingham House and Balmoral Castle as private homes for the Royal Family.

William the Conqueror first built the artificial hill and the wooden structure of the castle between 1070 and 1086. In the 900+ years since, the castle has greatly evolved, but remains centered on the artificial hill built long ago. The wooden structure was replaced by stone construction. Henry II (1154-1189) built the Round Tower at the center of the fortress and the original outer wall of stone. The castle has been modified many times over. There have been many restoration efforts over the centuries, as well.

A paint restorer was working on the current restoration taking place in the Queen’s Private Chapel in 1992. He was using a 1,000-watt halogen lamp for his work. At 11:33 AM the lamp caught a curtain on fire. One of the upgrades over the years was an alarm system and the Fire Brigade was alerted. Initially, the grid indicated the entire castle was ablaze but finally revealed the Brunswick Tower to be the site of the fire. More lights were coming on, indicating the fire was spreading rapidly. By 11:37 the Fire Marshall had alerted all members of private and public fire teams concerning the threat.

The Castle’s own 20 firefighters were assisted by outside forces who began arriving by 11:44. Ten pumpers tried to control the raging conflagration. By 12:12 PM there were 20 engines and another 15 arrived by 12:20. As the fire spread, even more engines were called in. By 8 PM and after using over 1 million gallons of water, the fire was under control. No one was killed or seriously injured in the fire, even though many staff , and even Prince Andrew, helped to form human chains to remove priceless artifacts. Many of the rooms had fortuitously been emptied for the restoration in progress.

The castle was back to its former glory by 1997, costing £40 million to repair the damages from the fire. Queen Elizabeth paid for 70% of the cost herself and opened the castle to the public to generate the other 30% of the funding. For a video of the fire, please click here.

“I heard the fire alarm and some two or three minutes later when I came out of the room I was in, you could see the smoke.” – Prince Andrew

“A cabin with plenty of food is better than a hungry castle.” – Irish Sayings

“A man’s home is his wife’s castle.” – Alexander Chase

“The home to everyone is to him his castle and fortress, as well for his defense against injury and violence, as for his repose.” – Edward Coke

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Windsor Castle has been used by succeeding monarchs since Henry I and is the longest occupied palace in Europe. The castle is really a group of buildings behind a protective wall. It was used by Parliamentary forces and as a prison for King Charles I during the English Civil War. During the Restoration, the castle was upgraded lavishly with Baroque interiors. It fell into disrepair and both George III and IV tried to bring it back to its former glory while also producing the State Apartments. Queen Victoria made minor improvements. The castle was used by the entire Royal Family during World War II. Queen Elizabeth II has used it as her preferred weekend home since taking the throne in 1952. Windsor Castle is the 13th largest castle and the world’s largest inhabited one at 484,374 square feet. However, it pales in comparison to Buckingham Palace at 828,818 which claims to be the world’s largest working palace. In Istanbul, Topkapi Palace was the primary residence for the Ottoman Dynasty for about 400 years and the entire complex included around 7,000,000 square feet.

Also on this day: What a Yo-Yo – In 1866, the yo-yo was patented.
Sperm Whale’s Revenge – In 1820, the whaling ship Essex was attacked.
Whoops – In 1980, the Lake Peigneur disaster began.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 19, 2013
McCaughey septuplets

McCaughey septuplets

November 19, 1997: Kenny, Alexis, Natalie, Kelsey, Nathan, Brandon, and Joel are born in Des Moines, Iowa. Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey (pronounced McCoy) and older sister, 22-month-old Mikayla, were inundated with babies born nine weeks early. Drs. Karen Drake and Paula Mahone tended to the high-risk pregnancy. The multiple births were the result of fertility treatments. The babies are the second instance of all seven babies being born alive and the first where all seven survived infancy. Two of the children have medical problems (cerebral palsy) associated with premature births.

The babies weighed between 2 pounds, 5 ounces and 3 pounds, 4 ounces for a total weight of 19 pounds, 14 ounces at birth. The McCaugheys received many generous gifts after the birth of the children. They were given a 5,500 square foot house, a van, and diapers for the first two years. They received nanny services and the state of Iowa has promised college educations to the children should they want to go to an Iowa state university. The surviving Dionne quintuplets, born on May 28, 1934, wrote to the parents warning of the dangers of rabid media attention along with congratulations to the family. By their tenth birthday, the McCaughey children were mostly out of the limelight.

Multiple births in humans is on the rise. The most common type of multiple births is twins or double births. Fraternal or dizygotic twins result from two eggs being fertilized. Identical or monozygotic twins have one egg fertilized that then splits to form two babies. When the split is incomplete, conjoined twins are the result. Since the advent of infertility treatments, the rates of multiple births have increased by 35% in Canada and 46% in the US. There were 136,000 multiple births in the US in 2003.

These high-risk pregnancies are leading to more babies being born with special needs due to premature birth and low birth weights. Singletons are born early 9.43% of the time while twins are early 50.74% and triplets are premature 91.03% of the time. Very pre-term numbers show the same pattern. Preemies are plagued by a number of problems due to low birth weight and organ immaturity. The most common problem is cerebral palsy, a condition more likely to develop in pre-term babies. But even more troubling is the rate of stillbirths which dramatically increase with multiple births.

“Well, come to our house, and tell me which four I shouldn’t have had!” – Bobbi McCaughey

“It sometimes happens, even in the best of families, that a baby is born. This is not necessarily cause for alarm. The important thing is to keep your wits about you and borrow some money. ” – Elinor Goulding Smith

“Families with babies and families without babies are sorry for each other.” – Ed Howe

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” – Carl Sandburg

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term with scientists saying it is neither genetic nor a disease. It is a non-progressive and non-contagious motor condition causing physical disability in human development. It is found to be congenital or diagnosed at or soon after birth. The condition affects muscle tone, posture, and movement that is the result of a lesion of the immature brain. The motor loss is often accompanied by loss of sensation, depth perception, as well as other sight perception anomalies, and communication issues. There are some instances of decreased cognition and epilepsy is found in about one-third of all CP cases. There are several different subtypes and those are based usually on the degree of spasticity. There is no known cure but better treatment modalities available for premature birth have lessened the occurrence. Treatment is used to ameliorate the complications from the condition.

Also on this day: Synonymous with Failure – In 1959, the Ford Edsel line was discontinued.
87 Years Later – In 1863, Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address.
Prestige – In 2002, the Prestige and her cargo sunk.

Great Shot

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 18, 2013
William Tell statue

William Tell statue

November 18, 1307: William Tell shoots an apple off his son’s head – or not. The legend says Tell was an expert marksman who lived in the Canton of Uri in Switzerland. The Gotthard Pass, a high mountain pass through the Alps, had recently opened trade routes. The Hapsburg emperor of Vienna sought to control Uri and thus control the trans-Alpine trade route. To that end, Hermann Gessler was sent to Altdorf to become the new bailiff of Uri. The citizenry of Uri did not want a new bailiff.

The Swiss locals had already banded together with neighboring towns and vowed to resist the Austrian oppression. Gessler raised a pole in the center of Altdorf. He placed his hat on top of the pole and commanded all to bow before this symbol of his power and authority. Tell, who lived outside the city, either didn’t know about the new rule or chose to ignore it. Either way, he didn’t bow. Gessler had Tell seized and proposed a punishment. Tell’s skill with the crossbow was known. He was to shoot an apple off his own son’s head. If he missed, both William and Walter Tell would die.

Tell placed one arrow in his quiver and one in his crossbow. His son’s hands were tied as his father aimed and shot the apple away. Gessler asked about the second arrow. William explained that if the first had missed, the second would have hit – Gessler. For this act of defiance Tell was arrested and sentenced to life in the Dungeons. While crossing the lake to get to the castle, Tell escaped. The night was stormy and the boat was difficult to manage. The boat finally landed and as the troupe was trudging toward the castle, Tell emerged from the forest and finally used his second arrow. The tyrant Gessler was dead and Tell fled once again.

The first mention of William Tell comes in the White Book of Samen written in 1475. The Song of the Founding of the Confederation written in 1477 is the oldest surviving poem about the heroic freedom fighter. By 1598 there was beginning debate over the authenticity of the man and his deeds. Outsiders were far more convinced about the mythology while natives remained positive of the veracity of the story. Whether the tale is a simple rallying point or the chronicle of actual events remains unproven. Many modern Swiss still believe he really existed.

“An intellectual snob is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger.” – Dan Rather

“My name is William Tell: / when little oppressions touch me / arrows hidden in my cloak / whisper, ‘Ready, ready.'” – William Stafford

“I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland to see what the army does with those wee red knives.” – Billy Connolly

“Switzerland is a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways, and is all stuck over with large brown hotels built on the cuckoo clock style of architecture.” – Ernest Hemingway

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Most Americans know about William Tell and his story because of the work by Gioachino Rossini. He wrote an opera called William Tell and the Overture to the opera has become famous. It was Rossinis’s 39th and last opera and premiered in 1820. After this he went into semi-retirement but continued to write cantatas, sacred music, and secular vocal music. The Overture lasts for about twelve minutes and is written for a Piccolo, a flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle, bass drum, cymbals, and strings. The mood is to paint a picture of the Swiss Alps which is the setting for the opera. It was described as a symphony in four parts but the overture does not have discrete breaks but simply transitions. What we might recognize when hearing the overture is the theme music to The Lone Ranger from both radio and television.

Also on this day: Jonestown – In 1978, a mass suicide takes place in Jonestown, when 913 of Jim Jones’s followers kill themselves.
Steamboat Willie – In 1928, the cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse was released.
Antipope – In 1105, Antipope Sylvester IV claimed the papacy.

Point Made

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 17, 2013
Douglas Engelbart

Douglas Engelbart

November 17, 1970: US Patent # 3,541,541 is granted to SRI International. Dr. Douglas Engelbart from SRI is an American inventor, geek, and philosopher of sorts. He reasoned that like a language’s complexity limits the expression of ideas, so too technology’s complexity or lack thereof limits our ability to manipulate information. He therefore invented ways for technology to become more coevolutionary. He was an instrumental driving force behind SRI and developed computer interface devices which led to the Graphical User Interface we have come to rely on.

Early computational devices had to be fed data in time consuming ways. Punch cards were an early method of data input. Eventually keyboards were added allowing data to be keyed in more easily and effectively. Text was shown on a monitor and could be manipulated when the cursor was in the appropriate place. Moving the cursor was done by use of the arrow keys. This was laborious, annoying, and time consuming. So Engelbart invented a pointing device and built his first one in 1963. He improved upon his idea and was granted a patent for an “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System” or as we call it, a mouse.

Engelbart didn’t make any money off this revolutionary idea. The patent was good until 1987 which predates the personal computing era. Newer mice used different mechanisms to achieve their effect and so were not deemed to be infringing. Instead, SRI licensed the idea to Apple for the paltry sum or $40,000. The brilliant scientist slipped into obscurity and remained an unsung hero for decades. However, he was finally recognized with cash awards and titular honors by the mid-1990s. His contributions to computing science have shaped the world we live in today.

Engelbart envisioned our computing to be done by constantly holding the mouse in one hand and typing on a five-key chord keyset with the other. While this didn’t happen, the mouse of today is indispensible as it rests next to the keyboard. Mechanical mice were upgraded to optical mice. Left and right click buttons were separated by the scroll button. Wireless mice no longer even look like the small rodent for which they were named. And on laptops, the touchpad is simply a flat input device. But we all need our mice.

“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” – Edsger W. Dijkstra

“Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.” – Joseph Campbell

“After growing wildly for years, the field of computing appears to be reaching its infancy.” – John Pierce

“Hardware: the parts of a computer that can be kicked.” – Jeff Pesis

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: SRI International was founded as Stanford Research Institute. It is a nonprofit research facility headquartered in Menlo Park, California. The trustees of Stanford University created the research branch in 1946 and it is now one of the largest contract research institutes in the world. They formally separated from the University it 1970 and became known as SRI International in 1977. Headquarters are still located near the Stanford campus. Their mission is scientific and technological in nature and they work for and with government agencies, commercial business, and private foundations. They license technologies and form strategic partnerships as well as spin-off businesses. They generated $585 million in 2012 and employed about 2,200 people. Physicist Curtis Carlson has been president and CEO since 1998. Sarnoff Corporation is a subsidiary of SRI since 1988 and is the brand name for the research business activities in Princeton, New Jersey. SRI is the owner of over 1,000 patents and patent applications worldwide.

Also on this day: The Heidi Game – In 1968, NBC didn’t finish the game, leaving a football game in progress to air the previously scheduled movie.
Delta Phi – In 1827, the fraternity was formed.
Anglo-Swedish War – In 1810, war was declared between two non-combatants.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 16, 2013


November 16, 1945: The UNESCO Constitution is signed, creating the United Nations body for Education, and Scientific and Cultural collaboration. The United Nations was founded June 26, 1945 and its charter was ratified on October 24. The UN’s goals are to promote economic development and social progress while maintaining human rights. International law and planetary security lead to the ultimate goal – world peace. The League of Nations was founded after World War I and was replaced by the UN after World War II. To date, peace remains elusive.

UNESCO is the specialized agency of the UN dealing with education. It is the body’s underlying principle “that education is the key to social and economic development.” Their mission is twofold: 1. to provide international leadership towards educational opportunities for all; and 2. to provide expertise to elevate national education programs. They both facilitate increasing educational opportunities worldwide and collect data to measure successes and failures. Their goal is to achieve universal quality education for all.

UNESCO has six goals or standards to be reached by 2015. First is to improve early childhood care and education. Next is to assure all children receive primary education with special considerations for girls and children of minority ethnicities. They want all young people and adults to be given access to programs teaching life skills. Their fourth goal is to reach a 50% literacy rate for women and to assure continuing education for all adults. They would like to see gender equality in education. Lastly, they wish to improve every aspect of the quality of education all around the world.

Illiteracy issues hinder the entire educational process. According to the most recent data, there are ≈ 774 million illiterate adults in the world. This represents about 13% of the global adult population. About 64% or 495 million of those unable to read are women. This means ≈ 17% of adult women are illiterate, cut off from so many chances for improvement of their life circumstances. UNESCO is based in Paris, France. They have 193 Member States and six Associate Members. The current director is from Bulgaria, Irina Gueorguieva Bokova.

“As of today, we do not need expert reports by the authoritative analytical institutions to realize that the reasons for such a situation in our community lie in global inequality, poverty and illiteracy.” – Nursultan Nazarbayev

“My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.” – Maya Angelou

“Hatred, intolerance, poor hygienic conditions and violence all have roots in illiteracy, so we’re trying to do something to help the poor and the needy.” – Abdul Qadeer Khan

“Think about it: Every educated person is not rich, but almost every educated person has a job and a way out of poverty. So education is a fundamental solution to poverty.” – Kathleen Blanco

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The principal organs of the United Nations are the UN General Assembly; UN Secretariat; International Court of Justice based in The Hague, the Netherlands; UN Security Council; UN Economic and Social Council; and the UN Trusteeship Council which became inactive in 1994 when the last trust territory was given freedom. There are seventeen specialized agencies of the UN of which UNESCO is one. The Food and Agriculture Organization with headquarters in Rome and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group both headquartered in Washington, D.C. were the first three formed. UNESCO was the fourth formed and is headquartered in Paris. The last to be formed is the International Fund for Agricultural Development which came into being in 1977. It is also headquartered in Rome. Montreal is headquarters for one agency as is London. Vienna has two, Rome has three and Geneva has five while Bern, Switzerland is also headquarters for the final one.

Also on this day: The Fugitive? – In 1966, Dr. Sam Sheppard was finally acquitted of his wife’s 1954 murder.
Wagons, Ho – In 1821, the first Santa Fe trail crossing was completed.
Sentenced – In 1849, Fyodor Dostoevsky was sentenced to death.

Clutter Family

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 15, 2013
Clutter Family

Clutter Family

November 15, 1959: Herb and Bonnie Clutter, along with their two youngest children are murdered. Herb was a wheat farmer who had begun small and through hard work had grown his enterprise into a successful farm. He and his wife had four children. The two oldest daughters had already moved on to their adult lives. Nancy (16) and Kenyon (15) still lived at home. The Clutters employed eighteen farmhands and were said to be fair employers. Bonnie suffered from clinical depression. The family was relatively well off and were reported to have a safe full of money on the property. The rumor was inaccurate.

Floyd Wells had once worked for the Clutters. He was in the Kansas State Penitentiary when he met Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. He told the two felons about the rumored safe. Hickock and Smith were paroled. They needed money and so planned to rob the Clutter farm, take the money from the safe, and then flee to Mexico to start new lives. They intended to leave no witnesses to mess up this perfect plan. But there was no safe and no money. Clutter used checks for better bookkeeping. The two ex-cons had driven all night across Kansas only to meet with utter failure.

Smith thought highly of Herb Cutter but slit his throat anyway. Bonnie and the children who had been tied and gagged were each murdered by a shotgun blast to the head. Hickock at first said he killed the two women and then maintained Smith killed all four Clutters. A small 335-word article about the murders in the New York Times on November 16 interested Truman Capote. The 35-year-old author began a journey into researching the senseless crime. He amassed 8,000 pages of notes. The criminals were found and sent back to prison. Capote interviewed them both. He was especially taken with Smith and there lingers some speculation about a romantic (possibly even sexual) relationship between them.

Capote’s In Cold Blood was not completed until after Hickock and Smith were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. In Cold Blood was published first as a four-part serial in The New Yorker. It came out in book form from Random House in January 1966. The 343-page book is a fictional work although based entirely on the facts of the case. The plot is revealed via assigned dialog between the two criminals. The portrayal of the psychological relationship between the two protagonists was a new technique. While in fact a true crime, the work itself is fiction.

“I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.” – Perry Smith

“Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15 [1959] (UPI) – A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged … There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.” – The New York Times

“The book is neither a who-done-it nor a will-they-be-caught, since the answers to both questions are known from the outset … Instead, the book’s suspense is based largely on a totally new idea in detective stories: the promise of gory details, and the withholding of them until the end.” – Tom Wolfe

“The quietness of his tone italicized the malice of his reply.” – Truman Capote

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Truman Capote was born in New Orleans in 1924 and had a troubled childhood. While still a child, he found his calling and began writing at age 11. He wrote short stories with the 1945 “Miriam” bringing him enough notice that Random House’s publisher Bennett Cerf offered a contract for longer works. Another of his famous works was Breakfast at Tiffany’s written in 1958. His most famous work is In Cold Blood. At least twenty films and television shows have been produced from his books and screenplays. In Cold Blood was his last complete novel but not the end of his fame. He was openly homosexual although never completely embraced the Gay Rights Movement. His lifelong partner was another writer, Jack Dunphy. In his later years, Capote became famous for being famous and was known for throwing lavish parties. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol and spent years in and out of rehab. He died in Bel Air, Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 59. The cause of death was liver disease exacerbated by drug toxicity.

Also on this day: The King – In 1956, Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley’s first movie, was released.
Where’s the Beef? – In 1969, Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s.
Remember – In 1939, the cornerstone for the Jefferson Memorial was laid.

The Big Barbecue

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2013
Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara

Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara

November 14, 1957: A meeting takes place at Joe’s house in Apalachin, New York. Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara was the boss of the Bufalino crime family based out of Pennsylvania. The family was part of an organization collectively called Cosa Nostra or familiarly known as the Mafia. Cosa Nostra, the secret Sicilian society, was joined by other crime syndicates in the 1930s. Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky, along with other ethnic crime bosses formed the National Crime Syndicate.

As with any organization, rivalries and in-fighting can cause difficulties for the whole. The reason for the Apalachin Meeting was to resolve issues surrounding gambling, casinos, and narcotics distribution country-wide but especially in the New York City area. There were about 100 people present to discuss these matters and the recent Scalise and Anastasia murders. With a possible gang war ready to break on the streets of NYC, all the nation’s bosses along with representatives from Italy, met to forestall a war of attrition as well as to divide up the lucrative markets among the families.

Bosses, advisors, and bodyguards gathered at the 53-acre estate about 200 miles west of NYC and close to the Pennsylvania border. A local state trooper had stopped Carmine Galante as he drove away from the mansion the year before. The trooper had been keeping a close eye on the estate since that time. Joe’s son had been busy making reservations for out of town guests at the local hotels and a number of luxury cars were seen going to the estate. As license plates were run, it was noted that many cars were registered to known criminals. Roadblocks were set up. Even though no crime was being committed, when the gangsters heard of the roadblocks, they panicked and tried to flee.

Up to 50 men escaped. However, 58 were apprehended. All the men taken into custody claimed they had heard Joe was sick and were just in town to visit a sick friend. They were all released, since no crime had been committed. La Cosa Nostra and the FBI were both embarrassed by the raid. One because they had been so easily found and the other because J. Edgar Hoover had long denied any National Crime Syndicate existed. With this evidence, Hoover set up a “Top Hoodlum Program” which led to greater scrutiny of many of the top crime bosses. They also were served with more indictments and grand jury subpoenas.

“I really grew very tired of all the Italian mafia movies that parade fancy silk suits, diamond pinky rings and lavish homes. Moviegoers may fantasize about living like that, but they can’t relate to it. Guys in the Irish mafia are different from the Italians. Irish gangsters mostly dress like working-class people, drive average cars, and enjoy a good barstool conversation, just like me and you. They just happen to make their money illegally and are exceedingly violent behind closed doors.” – Mike Kenney

“People can identify with someone taking the law into their own hands. There’s a sense of self-empowerment to it. I think that’s why people continue to romanticize the Mafia.” – Peter Agostino

“The Mafia has returned to dominate the landscape and become more of an economic presence instead of an armed presence. It has returned to make its presence known in the social circles that count.” – Antonio Ingroia

“If ‘The Godfather’ gets an award, does that mean the academy endorses the Mafia or the violence associated with the Mafia? Does ‘The Sopranos’ in any way promote the violence that is such an integral part of the hoodlum’s life? I don’t see the connection.” – Amir Harel

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The National Crime Syndicate was a name used by the press and not something used by those it described. Those who wrote about the national crime situation claimed the idea came from Johnny “The Fox” Torrio and the Syndicate was formed in Atlantic City during a conference held there in 1929. A US Senate Special Committee in the 1950s described the confederation as mainly Italian and Jewish with organized crime groups scattered throughout the US. Enforcement for the National Crime Syndicate was carried out by a Brooklyn mafiosi gang called, by the press at least, Murder, Inc. It was headed by Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro and Albert “Mad Hatter”Anastasia who in turn reported to commission members Louise “Lepke” Buchalter and Joe Adonis. However, in a biography of Meyer Lansky, called Little Man and written in 1991 by Robert Lacey, it was asserted there was no National Crime Syndicate. Lacey claimed that the Syndicate was often confused with the mafia and they are not the same thing.

Also on this day: Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist – In 1889, Nellie Bly left for her trip around the world.
Sugar and Spice – In 1997, Reena Virk is murdered.
Crash – In 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed in West Virginia.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 13, 2013
Meteor shower of 1883

Meteor shower of 1883

November 13, 1833: In the four hours before dawn, the sky is lit by meteors. The first few flashes began soon after dusk the evening before. The pre-dawn sky in eastern North America was streaked by fire from on high. The local reactions ranged from hysteria and claiming Judgment Day had arrived to the wonder of scientists confronted with a new phenomenon. There were said to be 1,000 meteors per minute coming from the constellation of Leo. The display was so awesome, almost no one slept through it. If shouts and wails from neighbors didn’t wake people up, the bright flashes in the sky did.

Science of the day had no real explanation for meteors, but they came up with some fantastic theories. The wildly speculative reasoning gave way to scientific study by D. Olmsted. He presented his finding in January 1834. He observed the meteors radiating from a point in the constellation Leo and surmised they had originated from a cloud of particles in outer space. His further suppositions were erroneous but led to further study of the occurrence. The recurring pattern of the Leonid meteor showers was established.

The shower is associated with the comet Tempel-Tuttle. The shower is seen yearly around November 17 (a week on either side). At that time, Earth moves through a stream of particles left from the comet. The meteor shower of 1833 was truly spectacular over the entire North American continent east of the Rocky Mountains. The storms were again of superior strength in 1866 and 1867. They didn’t comply in 1899 and the comet was thought to be defunct. In 1966 another impressive show filled the night sky. The varying intensity of the shower occurs because the Earth’s orbit doesn’t always exactly intersect with the dust cloud as it did in 1833.

The Tempel-Tuttle or 55P comet was discovered on December 19, 1865. The comet was observed in 1699 but not recognized as recurring until the 1866 return. The comet passes by every 33 years and Earth encounters the debris stream while it is still condensed. The last perihelion was February 28, 1998 and the next is due on May 20, 2031. Study of the event continues with ever more sophisticated apparatus. Weather conditions are a factor as cloud cover blocks the view. As dust particles enter the atmosphere, air molecules ram the meteoroid which fragments. The atomized dust cools by glowing.

“[Gases] became ignited by electricity or phosphoric particles in the air.” – Charleston Courier (1833)

“The strong southern wind of yesterday may have brought a body of electrified air, which, by the coldness of the morning, was caused to discharge its contents towards the earth.” – United States Telegraph (1833)

“I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.” – Jack London

“Men of genius are often dull and inert in society; as the blazing meteor, when it descends to earth, is only a stone.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Meteor showers are the result of passing through cosmic debris. The meteoroids enter Earth’s atmosphere at very high speed and at a parallel trajectory. Because all the small debris, mostly smaller than a grain of sand, are travelling in parallel paths, they appear to us on the planet’s surface to be coming from a single radiant point. This is simply a matter of perspective and is similar to the artistic idea of a vanishing point when creating a picture using perspective. These showers are usually named for the constellation seen as their site of origin. The debris is left behind when a comet approaches the sun and is warmed. The concept of “dirty snowballs” was demonstrated by Fred Whipple in 1951. As the ice warms it releases rocks that are variable in size and ranging from grains of sand to boulders. The ice itself can also be from more that water and can include methane, ammonia, or other volatiles. All this debris is left behind and if the Earth intersects it correctly, we see a meteor shower.

Also on this day: Deadliest Natural Disaster of the Twentieth Century – In 1970, the Bhola cyclone hits land.
Sammy and May – In 1960, the two married.
Rescue – In 1901, the Caister-on-Sea incident took place.

Daring Young Man

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2013
Jules Léotard

Jules Léotard

November 12, 1859: The Cirque Napoleon presents a new and spectacular circus act. Jules Léotard was the son of a gymnasium instructor. His date of birth is unknown but is thought to have been in 1842. He had passed all his exams and was on the brink of entering into the Practice of Law. Instead, he began to play with trapeze bars, ropes, and rings while suspended over a swimming pool. He became adept at the moves and joined the circus. His opening night’s performance lasted for 12 minutes. He spun between three trapezes and ended by somersaulting onto a carpet-covered mat. The safety net wasn’t invented until 1871.

The act was unprecedented. His co-workers were so impressed they threw a lavish party and gave Jules a medal. He had to move freely between his swinging trapezes and so also invented a costume, the eponymous one-piece, skin-tight, long-sleeved garment was built for freedom of movement and to show off his muscled physique. He called the outfit a maillot, French for bathing suit. Today it is called a leotard in his honor. By 1861, Jules was flying over the heads of diners at the Alhambra Theatre in London and earning £180 per week, or about £5,000 in today’s economy. He died in Spain in 1870 of smallpox of cholera.

The modern circus was invented in London in 1768. Philip Astley combined horseback riding with acrobatic skills and entertained the masses. The first ring was created in 1779 and it measured 42.5 feet in diameter, a standard still used today. The term “circus” was coined by Charles Hughes in 1782. In 1793, Bill Ricketts moved to Philadelphia along with his troupe of entertainers, bringing the circus to America and by 1797 he was performing in Quebec as well.

By 1825, the circus was a worldwide phenomenon. It moved under the big top when Joshua Purdy Brown adapted a tent to the purpose. The Cirque Napoleon was established in 1852 and is now called the Cirque d’Hiver. Today, circuses are held in arenas. Even Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey abandoned the Big Top in 1956. There are schools scattered around the world teaching the performers the necessary skills so they, too, can run away and join the circus.

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease,
That daring young man on the flying trapeze.” – George Leybourne

“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” – Kin Hubbard

“The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous will happen.” – Claude Debussy

“Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end.” – David Niven

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: A trapeze is simply a short horizontal bar hung between ropes or metal straps. The horizontal bar is parallel to the ground, but it is high in the air. Performances use various methods. A static trapeze act has the performer working on a bar that is not moving, hence the name. There are moves along the bar and suspension cords while the bar itself remains stable. A swinging trapeze has a performer executing tricks while a bar swings through the air. The performer can actually leave the trapeze, but instead of moving across space, lands back on the same bar from which he or she started. Doing a flying trapeze act means that the performer is flying between at least two different trapezes with or without secondary performers on the other bars. These acts often have the flyer, the person who goes between bars, and a catcher, the person responsible for plucking the flyer from the air as they move through space. These acts are often performed over a safety net.

Also on this day: Thar She Blows – In 1970, a rotting beached whale was removed from an Oregon beach, sorta.
Terrorist Attack – In 1997, Ramzi Yousef was found guilty of the WTC bombing of 1993.
Found – In 1912, Robert Scott’s frozen body was found.

This Isn’t the Hudson

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2013
Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact depiction

November 11, 1620: Forty-one passengers from the Mayflower sign the Mayflower Compact. The date is Old Style as the Gregorian calendar had not yet been accepted by England and her colonies. The Mayflower set sail from Southampton, England on September 6, again OS date. They were supposed to land near the mouth of the Hudson River at the northern edge of the Virginia colony. The trip was to have been made by two ships. The two ships left port on August 5 but soon the Speedwell developed a leak. They returned and repaired the ship, another leak became apparent, and finally only the Mayflower sailed with 102 passengers plus crew.

The trip took 66 days. The weather turned hostile and they were blown off course. Their charter with the London Company specified the location for the new colony. As they approached the harsher, wintry landscape near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, there was dissention in the ranks. In order to establish some sense of order and to stop the bickering among the passengers, the Mayflower Compact was written and signed. The ship was still anchored in Provincetown Harbor. They rowed in to shore and found snow covered ground with artificial mounds. They looted food stores from burial mounds.

The ship left the harbor and sailed down the coast, robbing caches of food and desecrating burial mounds. They lived this way through the winter, staying aboard the ship but foraging on land. The natives who were being robbed took action against the invaders, keeping them at bay. The people aboard the Mayflower were starving and affected with a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. By spring, 49 passengers and half the crew were dead. They had settled near Plymouth to wait out the winter aboard ship. They built some rough huts and the weary travelers came ashore on March 21, 1621. The ship left the Pilgrims behind to return to England on April 5, 1621.

The original copy of the Mayflower Compact has been lost. William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, and Edward Winslow’s Mourt’s Relation agree on the text of the document. The undersigned agreed to form just and equal laws to meet the general good. There were only male signatories. John Carver was the first to sign as the leader and first governor (elected that same day to a one-year term) of the Plymouth Colony. It was he who brokered a treaty with Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag tribe for the Plymouth Colony site. He died in the spring of 1621, apparently of sunstroke.

“I am glad my ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, but I am gladder that there are nine generations between us.” – William Lyon Phelps

“My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they were there to meet the boat.” – Will Rogers

“What we know today is that children all over America have the right to learn – whether their ancestors came to America on slave ships or the Mayflower.” – Mark Pryor

“It is a pity that instead of the Pilgrim Fathers landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock had not landed on the Pilgrim Fathers.” – Chauncey Depew

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Mayflower was a Dutch Cargo fluyt, meaning it was built for transoceanic sailing. There were no armaments in this type of ship in order to increase cargo space. The Mayflower’s maiden voyage was some time before 1609 and her trip in 1620 is her most famous. She was usually crewed by 36-50 men. The upper deck was 80-90 feet with an overall length of 100-110 feet. There were probably four decks. It is known that for this particular journey there were 33 crew aboard along with the 102 passengers. She was rated at 180 tons which meant that the hold could accommodate 180 casks of rum or wine. Prior to the sailing in 1620, Captain Christopher Jones had repeatedly sailed across the English Channel taking English woolens to France and returning with French wine to London. Other items were also traded. In 1620 Captain Jones and Robert Child each owned a quarter share of the ship and it was from them that Thomas Weston chartered the ship for this historic trip.

Also on this day: The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
Mum’s the Word – In 1790, Chrysanthemums were introduced into England.
Cold – In 1930, Einstein’s refrigerator was patented.