Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 31, 2013
Old British coins

Old British coins

December 31, 1960: The farthing ceases to be legal tender in the United Kingdom. The word itself means “fourth part” and the coin itself was worth ¼ of a cent or 1/960 of a pound sterling. The coins were first minted in the 13th century and were made of silver. As the least valuable coin, few were hoarded and so few survive to date. Many of these small change coins were “cut coinage” where pennies were literally cut into smaller pieces. The earliest minted farthings come from the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272) rather than King Edward I (1272-1307) as previously thought.

There is some speculation that Henrician farthings were experimental coinage. By Edward II’s reign, two mints were producing the coin, one in London and a second in Berwick. The coin’s use appeared to have been sporadic and some kings’ mints did not press any farthings: Henry VI, Edward IV, and Edward V. Later monarchs also did not have silver farthings because they had become too small to be struck. King James I (1603-1625) solved the problem by issuing copper coins.

The privilege of minting coins was licensed to various families with the possibility of profit always present. Under the Commonwealth (1649-1660), no farthings were used. King Charles II (1660-1685) saw a need for small value coins and eventually moved from copper to a tin and copper coin. Farthings were imprinted with a picture of the monarch along with a legend written in Latin or English. Queen Elizabeth II only had farthings made with her image from 1953-1956.

With prices rising, more people were less inclined to accept a large number of coins for even small purchases. A push came to end production which took place in 1956. The coins in circulation continued to be used as legal tender until this date. Today, the pound sterling (£) is valued at 100 (new) pence rather than the old system where a pound was worth 20 shillings, each of which was worth 12 (old) pence. The first decimal coins were issued in 1968. The last redesign of British currency took place in 2008.

“The world is an old woman, and mistakes any gilt farthing for a gold coin; whereby being often cheated, she will thenceforth trust nothing but the common copper.” – Thomas Carlyle

“Remuneration! O! That’s the Latin word for three farthings.” – William Shakespeare

“Virtue knows to a farthing what it has lost by not having been vice.” – Horace Walpole

“To see that many penny farthings all lined up is an amazing sight.” – Stuart Warburton

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The British Pound is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isla of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. Guernsey and Jersey both produce their own local issues of sterling. It is the coinage along with one other for various other areas around the world. It is the fourth most traded currency in the foreign exchange market with the US dollar, the euro, and the Japanese yen being the first three. These four currencies together form the basket of currencies which calculate the value of IMF special drawing rights. The Dollar is weighted 41.9%, the Euro as 37.4%, Sterling at 11.3% and the Yen at 9.4%. Sterling is also one of the most held reserve currency in global reserves, coming in third for that designation after the dollar and the euro.

Also on this day: Dupont Plaza Hotel – In 1986, three unhappy employees set the hotel on fire.
Longacre Square – In 1904, New Year’s Eve was celebrated in NYC.
Granted = In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted a Royal Charter.

Countess Bathory

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 30, 2013
Elizabeth Báthory

Elizabeth Báthory

December 30, 1610: Elizabeth Báthory is apprehended. The Hungarian countess was a member of a prominent aristocratic family most noted for defending Hungary and Poland against the Ottoman invasion. There were many noted members of the family including several princes. Elizabeth was the niece of the King of Poland and an uncle on the other side of the family was the Voivod or Prince of Transylvania. She grew up in Ecsed Castle on the family estate in Nyírbátor, Hungary.

She married Ferenc Nádasdy in 1575 at the age of 15. For a wedding present, her husband gave her Csejte Castle, the country house, and 17 adjacent villages. Her new home was located in the Little Carpathians in what is today Slovenia. The area surrounding the castle was fertile agricultural lands. While her husband was away in war, Elizabeth ran the estate and defended it from attack. She was highly educated and could read and write in four languages. She was known to intervene on behalf of poor women mistreated by circumstances or men.

Between 1602 and 1604, Lutheran minister István Magyan began complaining about atrocities perpetrated. He took his complaints as far as Vienna. Finally, Hungarian authorities under King Matthias (Elizabeth’s cousin) sent Juraj Thurzo to investigate. It was now March 1610 and two men began collecting evidence. Elizabeth and four collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls and young women. There is some conjecture that Elizabeth’s husband introduced her to the thrill of inflicting chaos on others. He died in 1604 and she carried on without him.

While she murdered peasant girls with apparent impunity, something had to be done when she started killing girls of lesser nobility. Elizabeth was arrested, but if convicted, her lands would have been forfeit. Her children and sons-in-law managed to simply lock her away. It is said she killed over 600 girls. While she never stood trial, her accomplices were found guilty of 80 murders. Elizabeth was placed on house arrest and walled into a set of rooms in her castle. She remained there for four years, until she died at the age of 54.

“One accomplice testified that on some days Elizabeth had stark-naked girls laid flat on the floor of her bedroom and tortured them so much that one could scoop up the blood by the pailful afterwards, and so Elizabeth had her servants bring up cinders in order to cover the pools of blood.” – Raymond T. McNally

“There is a great streak of violence in every human being.  If it is not channeled and understood, it will break out in war or in madness.” – Sam Peckinpah

“Wild animals never kill for sport.  Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow-creatures is amusing in itself.” – James Anthony Froude

“To torture a man you have to know his pleasures.” – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Ferenc Nádasdy was born in 1555 to one of the wealthiest and most influential families in Hungary. He was 16 when he was engaged to Elizabeth Bathory. The families were evenly matched financially. The Bathory family had a longer history and was much greater in scope concening matters of influence. Ferenc was barely literate and was said to have just a meager understanding of both Latin and German. During their long engagement, Elizabeth became pregnant by one of the servants. The man was castrated and then fed to the dogs while Elizabeth was sent off to have the child. The daughter born to her was kept secret and disassociated from the family. After their marriage, the couple had five more children; only three survived infancy.

Also on this day: Once in a Blue Moon – In 1982, the only total eclipse of a blue moon in the entire century took place.
Ted on the Loose – In 1977, Ted Bundy once again escaped from prison.
Not So Special – In 1924, Edwin Hubble announced that we were not alone.

Worst in America

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2013
Ashtabula Bridge disaster

Ashtabula Bridge disaster

December 29, 1876: A bridge over the Ashtabula River collapses. The bridge was 11 years old and was the first Howe-type wrought iron truss bridge built. The bridge was designed jointly by Charles Collins and Amassa Stone. There is some speculation today stating Collins was reluctant to use the design as it was “too experimental” but caved in to pressure from the railroad.

A blizzard struck northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania dropping lake effect snow over the area. The heavy, wet snow fell all day, blanketing the region. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Train No. 5, The Pacific Express, left Erie, Pennsylvania heading west. They were 2.5 hours late in departure and had four pusher locomotives added to help plow through the ever deepening snow. The train left Erie at 3 PM and at 7:24, while approaching Ashtabula, Ohio’s railway station, passed a heavy freight train heading east. This train had made it over the fated bridge.

About 100 yards past the station, the train approached the bridge at 7:27 PM. Engineer Daniel McGuire was in the lead locomotive, “Socrates.” He felt the train shift after hearing a loud crack. The trailing engine, “Columbia,” seemed to sink. Another crack sounded and the south truss fell away. The center of the bridge sunk as Socrates passed and McGuire opened the throttle, trying to gain purchase on the western side.

The entire bridge buckled as Socrates passed onto the west abutment. The shifting tracks derailed both engines. The coupling broke free and Socrates made land. Columbia and 11 cars tumbled to the Ashtabula River 70 feet below with later cars crushing passenger cars already at the bottom. Many of those lucky enough to survive the crash then found themselves trapped by fires that spread through the wreckage, started by the stoves used for heat. There were 159 passengers and crew on the train: 64 were injured and 92 were killed either immediately or died later of injuries (48 of the victims were unrecognizable or totally consumed by the flames).

“The haggard dawn which drove the darkness out of this valley and shadow of death seldom saw a ghastlier sight than was revealed with the coming of this morning.”

“On each side of the ravine frowned the dark and bare arches from which the treacherous timbers had fallen, while at their base the great heaps of ruins covered the hundred men, women and children who had so suddenly been called to their death.”

“The three charred bodies lay where they had been placed in the hurry and confusion of the night.”

“Piles of iron lay on the thick ice or bedded in the shallow water of the stream. The fires smoldered in great heaps, where many of the hapless victims had been all consumed, men went about in wild excitement seeking some traces of loved ones among the wounded or dead.” – all from the Cincinnati Gazette describing the fire

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The crash was loud enough to be heard in town and many locals ran to offer assistance. By the time they arrived, some of the wounded passengers had made it to shore but out in the water, fires were blazing. The objective was to rescue those outside the burning cars and no effort was made to rescue anyone trapped inside. Not all things work out well and many of the wounded or dead were robbed by the “helpful” citizens. An investigation into the disaster began the following day and lasted for over two months. The investigation led to findings of faulty design and construction. It also found that had the bridge been adequately inspected in the eleven years the bridge was in use, the inadequacies would have been noted. The materials used were not found to be at fault, but simply the design. Collins was found dead and ruled a suicide shortly afterwards, but new examinations in 2001 indicated he was murdered. Stone committed suicide seven years after the disaster due to other financial troubles.

Also on this day: The Awakened One – In 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha was consecrated.
Ooh-La-La – In 1721, Lady Pompadour was born.
Saintly Departure – In 1170, Thomas Becket was assassinated.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 28, 2013
Urbain Le Verrier

Urbain Le Verrier

December 28, 1612: Galileo Galilei observes the planet Neptune. In his drawings of the night sky, Neptune is placed appropriately but mislabeled as a fixed star. Because of this, Galileo is not credited with the discovery of the planet. A fixed star is a celestial object that does not seem to move in relation to other stars. The ancients saw two groups of objects in the night sky. Fixed stars all seemed to span the night sky in unison while the wandering stars moved independently. Fixed stars are really stars while wandering stars are the naked eye visible planets. A second difference between the two is that stars twinkle while planets shine.

Galileo again drew Neptune in the same place on January 27, 1613. Because the planet is so distant and its orbital path so large, the planet had not seemed to shift. It was thought to be a star. The planet was discovered after it was theoretically proven to exist. Gravitational disturbances in the orbit of Uranus led to conjecture of another more distant planet. Urbain Le Verrier mathematically figured out where this disturbance was coming from. Johann Gottfried Galle viewed the math projection and so pointed his telescope to the appropriate portion of the sky. Others were also working on the math and looking at the sky; priority was in dispute.

Neptune is the eighth and now last planet from the sun. It appears blue because red light is absorbed by methane. The planet’s mass is 17 times that of Earth but just 1/19th that of Jupiter. Neptune is the smallest of the gas giants. Since both Uranus and Neptune have a much higher concentration of volatiles (elements or compounds with low boiling points) when compared to Jupiter and Saturn, they are sometimes referred to as ice giants instead of gas giants. The planet sports a ring system although far less impressive than Saturn’s.

Neptune’s average distance from the Sun is 30.1 AU or 30.1 times farther than Earth’s orbit from the Sun. It takes 164.79 years for Neptune to orbit the Sun. On July 12, 2011, it will be 1 Neptune year since it was discovered in 1846. Neptune has 13 known moons, but most are so small they were not massive enough to achieve a spherical shape. The largest moon, Triton, contains 99% of the lunar mass and was found just 17 days after Neptune was discovered. Voyager 2 passed the planet in 1989, sending back information about the planet and moons.

“The exploration of the solar system cannot be what we want it to be as an enterprise borne solely by the American taxpayer or indeed even by the taxpayers of the nations willing to join with us in this enterprise.” – Michael Griffin

“The science data set to return next year will have a huge impact on the way in which we deal with conditions on Earth, demonstrating how the exploration of the solar system has real impact on our daily lives.” – Keith Mason

“Four and a half billion years ago, all of the matter of the solar system, including us, was part of a giant molecular cloud. Genesis is providing the chemical composition of that solar nebula. …The material is still stored for us in the surface of the sun.” – Don Burnett

“We’ll learn more about the relationship between the rings and satellites…and a lot of the models that will be tested also apply to galactic formation and the origin of our solar system.” – Bonnie Buratti

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Urbain Le Verrier was a French mathematician who is one of the people credited with discovering Neptune. By observing Uranus and doing complicated calculations, he was able to posit a planet’s existence farther out. Le Verrier announced his finding publicly to the French Academy two days before Englishman John Couch Adams mailed a final solution to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Le Verrier mailed his finding to Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory and the letter arrived on September 23, 1846. That night, Galle and Heinrich d’Arrest found the planet just 1° from where Le Verrier had predicted. Adams himself acknowledged Le Verrier’s priority.

Also on this day: Child’s Play – In 1973, Akron, Ohio stops their association with Box Car Derby after cheating becomes rampant.
Poor Ben – In 1732, an ad for Poor Richard’s Almanack was run in Ben Franklin’s newspaper.
San Francisco Muni – In 1912, the Municipal Railroad in San Francisco opened.

Coming into Port

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 27, 2013
Port wine

Port wine

December 27, 1703: The Methuen Treaty is signed by Portugal and England. The War of the Spanish Succession was fought 1701-1714. In 1700, King Charles II of Spain died leaving all his possessions to Philip, duc d’Anjou – a grandson of French King Louis XIV. Many interested parties in Europe and North America had issues with the Frenchman being seated as King of Spain. The Holy Roman Empire along with Great Britain, Portugal and others went to war against France, Spain, and Hungary.

Spain ruled over an empire and there was a fear the new Frenchman king would also rule in France and merge the two major powers into one. Portugal originally sided with France with the French Navy supposedly protecting Portugal’s coast. In 1702, with a British naval presence close to Lisbon, it became evident France was not up to the task. Portugal switched sides with the signing of the treaty. The treaty established war aims and listed commercial practices between the two signatories. One of the difficulties of being at war with France was wine shipments were highly taxed. This treaty gave preferential treatment to port, wine from Portugal, making it a popular replacement beverage in England.

Wine is fermented juice, usually from grapes but other fruits can be used. The fermentation process turns natural sugars into alcohol. Wine first appeared around the border regions of what is today Georgia and Iran ≈ 6000 BC. It spread through Europe and was popular there by 4500 BC. The word wine derives from the Latin word for grapevine. There are a variety of wines, sometimes classified by the grape used, but more frequently by the region where it is made.

Port, also called Vinho do Porto, Oporto, or Porto is a fortified wine from Portugal, coming from the Douro Valley in the northern part of the country. A fortified wine is one to which alcohol, usually in the form of brandy, has been added. In the US, ‘”fortified wine” is not permitted on the label so they are often called dessert wines instead. The Douro River Valley has three official zones with each producing a particular variety of the beverage. There are more than 100 types of grapes used to make port and the export process has been highly regulated. Storing port, like wine, means keeping the bottles in a cool, dark place.

“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Wine is a turncoat; first a friend and then an enemy.” – Henry Fielding

“The vine bears three kinds of grapes: the first of pleasure, the second of intoxication, the third of disgust.” – Diogenes

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Douro River is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. The origin is in Spain and the river runs for 557 miles before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. This makes it the third largest river on the peninsula. It flows from an elevation of 7,077 feet. The Douro vinhateiro is the wine growing portion of the valley located in Portugal. It has been classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Before the mid-twentieth century, the wine was taken down river in flat-bottom boats known as rabelos. The wine was then stored in barrels in the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia. However, in 1950 and 1960 dams were built along the river making this no longer possible. Today, wine is transported in tanker trucks.

Also on this day: Hagia Sophia – In 537, the Hagia Sophia was officially dedicated.
Play Nice – In 1512, the Laws of Burgos were issued.
Man Cave – In 1966, the Cave of Swallows was discovered.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 26, 2013
Search for Tomorrow

Search for Tomorrow

December 26, 1986: Search for Tomorrow goes off the air after this day’s program runs. The first episode was broadcast on September 3, 1951. The soap opera was aired live from 1951 to 1968 and the show ran for 15 minutes. The show’s original sponsors were Joy dishwashing liquid and Spic and Span – a household cleaner, hence the term “soap opera.” The show moved to a half-hour format in 1968 and was one of the first soaps to migrate from live to taped broadcasts. The August 4, 1983 show was done live after the master copy and backup mysteriously disappeared. NBC was accused of creating a publicity stunt.

Soap operas began as dramatic presentations aired on radio during daytime hours and sponsored by corporate giants marketing cleaning products to the “little woman” listening at home. The stories had “an emphasis on family life, personal relationships, sexual dramas, emotional and moral conflicts; some coverage of topical issues; set in familiar domestic interiors with only occasional excursions into new locations.” In the US, the core cast of characters is usually more up-scale, attractive, and glamorous than the typical viewer of such fare. In the UK and Australia, the focus is on everyday characters and social issues.

Search for Tomorrow was created by Roy Winsor. Roy wrote for radio before coming to daytime television. He usually worked with soap operas but also produced the Western Have Gun, Will Travel for radio. He also wrote several novels. For the first 13 weeks of production, Agnes Nixon wrote the screenplays and then Irving Vendig took over.

The show’s main character was Joanne (played by Mary Stuart for the entire 35 year run) who was a Midwestern housewife in a town called Henderson. Joanne or Jo was a widow and her in-laws caused her so much angst, she regularly discussed her problems with neighbors, Stu and Marge. Joanne eventually needed income and began to manage a hotel and the Mafia tried to take over. By the mid-1960s, ratings were stagnant. By the 1980s, with ratings falling, the show was cancelled. The last show was run and followed by a taped piece thanking the viewers for 35 years of loyalty.

“Stu: What are you searching for Jo?
Jo: Tomorrow. And I can’t wait.” – last episode of Search for Tomorrow

“No soap opera has so engrossingly captured the wondrous banality of the human condition.” – Harry F. Waters

“If you have to be in a soap opera try not to get the worst role.” – Judy Garland

“You know, a soap opera – you watch it every day, and nothing changes.” – Stephen Harper

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: At the time of cancellation, Search for Tomorrow was the longest running non-news show on television. Since that time, Hallmark Hall of Fame has taken over that distinction. There were 9,130 episodes of Search for Tomorrow which far oustrips the Hallmark show. Search for Tomorrow moved networks from CBS to NBC in 1982 but the new venue couldn’t help the ratings. Originally shown in black-and-white, the program moved to color in 1967. Proctor & Gamble was the original sponsor as the makers of both Joy and Spic and Span. The opening sequence showed the title of the show over a picture of clouds. The only change in 35 years was to a color picture with a slightly varied letter “S” in the title. Don Knotts, Larry Hagman, Morgan Fairchild, Kevin Bacon, Olympia Dukakis, and Lee Grant all played roles in the television show.

Also on this day: Kwanzaa – in 1966 the first Kwanzaa was celebrated.
Zounds! Sounds! – In 1933, a patent was granted for FM radio.
Storming Scandinavia – In 2011, Cyclone Dagmar made landfall.

Scone Stone

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2013
Stone of Scone

Stone of Scone

December 25, 1950: A special rock is stolen by nationalist patriots. The rock weighs 336 pounds and is made of red sandstone. It is an oblong block measuring 26 x 16 x 10.5 inches with chisel marks on the top and iron rings on each end for easier transport. The rock has a variety of names. It is called the Stone of Scone, the Stone of Destiny, the Coronation Stone, Jacob’s Pillow Stone, or the Tanist Stone or clach-na-cinneamhain, clach Sgàin, and Lia(th) Fàil in Scottish Gaelic. The stone’s legend says it dates from the Biblical tome of Jacob.

Regardless of names or date of origin, it has been used for centuries during coronation ceremonies. Since the first King of Scots was crowned around 847, the ruler’s ceremony was performed while he (or she) sat atop the stone. In 1296, the stone was captured by Edward I and taken to Westminster Abbey. It was fitted into a special wooden chair called St. Edward’s Chair. Every subsequent sovereign of England (except Queen Mary II) has been crowned while seated there.

The Stone may or may not be the original Scottish stone. There is a legend stating a fake was taken by Edward and the original buried somewhere near Scone Palace, the monks there having successfully hidden it. If so, they did a great job because no other similar stone has ever been found. In 1328 negotiations for the return of the Stone stalled. However, the Scottish King James VI sat upon it as he became King James I of England. The stone remained in London.

Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Mathison, and Alan Stuart were Scottish students. They took the stone from Westminster Abbey to return it to Scotland. While liberating the treasure, they broke it into two pieces. They smuggled them out in the trunks of cars, first the larger piece and then the smaller, past roadblocks set up to find and return the artifact. The stone was professionally repaired. It was eventually left on the altar of Arbroath Abbey. On April 11, 1951 the stone was returned to Westminster Abbey – unless it is not the original stone, but a duplicate.

“In 1996, Her Majesty The Queen allowed the stone to be returned to Scotland, after 700 years. Its royal role will continue: the ancient stone will be taken to London for all future coronations.” – from Edinburgh Castle website

“If the real stone was substituted with a copy in 1950, then this would make the stone in Edinburgh Castle… a fake. But even if that were the case, there are those who doubt that the stone taken by Edward I in 1296 was the real one.” – Philip Coppens

“The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high-road that leads him to England.” – Samuel Johnson

“In all my travels I never met with any one Scotchman but what was a man of sense. I believe everybody of that country that has any, leaves it as fast as they can.” – Francis Lockier

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The Stone of Scone was first stored at Scone Abbey, hence the name. The Abbey was founded some time between 1114 and 1122 but the date is uncertain. It was originally a Priory but in 1163/4, King Mael Coluim IV increased the status of the religious community which became an abbey and was used to house the precious coronation stone. The first to lead the order was Prior Robert who would later become bishop of St. Andrew. There was a fire there in 1163 which destroyed some of the early documents and more were lost during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Back in the 12th century, they were the proud owner of several relics which made the abbey a popular pilgrimage destination. In 1559 it was victim of a mob from Dundee and during the Reformation it was largely destroyed. In 1580 the lands were given to Lord Ruthven who became the Earl of Gowrie. In 1600 King James VI charged the family with treason and their lands were given to Sir David Murray of Gospetrie.

Also on this day: Mastodons – In 1801 the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
It Is Finished – In 1991, the dissolution of the USSR was completed.
Arrival – In 1941, Admiral Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 24, 2013
Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook

December 24, 1777: James Cook discovers an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific Ocean. An atoll is an island made of coral which has a lagoon. A lagoon is a shallow pool of brackish or salt water, separated from deeper waters by said coral reefs or sandbars, making the two geographical entities symbiotic. Cook named the small island Christmas Island. It is part of the Line Islands or Equatorial Islands – a group of 11 coral reefs located south of the Hawaiian Islands, 4,200 miles from Sydney and 3,330 miles from San Francisco.

Christmas Island is about 0.125 square miles  with the lagoon area approximately the same size. This means there are about 80 acres of land making it the largest land area of any atoll in the world. It is an irregularly shaped island with 93 miles of coastline with another 30 miles of shoreline associated with the lagoon. The island came under US jurisdiction in 1856 with the Guano Islands Act. The Treaty of Tarawa, ratified in 1982, formally ceded the islands to Kiribati.

During the late 1950s, the atolls of the Pacific Ocean were used for nuclear tests. Now called Kiritimati – the name may sound Polynesian, but is an actual translation of Christmas Island to Gilbertese and of Australian lineage. The British used the island as a base. Their first attempt to detonate a hydrogen bomb at Malden Island was a failure. On November 8, 1957 they successfully completed a test on the southeast tip of Kiritimati. There were also 22 nuclear detonations by the US either on or above the island.

The military left the area by 1969, leaving behind military bases – partly dismantled and partly renovated for civilian use. In 1989 there were about 2,000 people living on the island. By 2005 the census had increased to 5,115 with the population divided between four villages. Tabawakea is the largest with 1,881 people there. London, Banana, and Poland complete the list with Paris lying in ruins. Kiritimati lies close to the International Date Line and shares the time with the Hawaiian Islands. The date, however, is different. New Year’s comes first to this tiny island each year.

“The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience.  Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.  We know more about war that we know about peace, more about killing that we know about living.” – Omar Bradley

“And it’s hard to get more real world than military testing. When you’re life is on the line, every move counts.” – Brad Fain

“We are opposed to any further military testing on our lands.” – Raymond Yowell

“The Cold War is gone. Colonialism is gone. Apartheid is gone. Yet remnants of past troubles remain.” – Bill Clinton

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: James Cook was born in November 1728 and was a British explorer, navigator, mapmaker, and Captain in the Royal Navy. He began with exploration of Newfoundland and then made three separate voyages to the Pacific Ocean. During his travels there, he contacted the eastern coastline of Australia and visited the Hawaiian Islands. He was also the discoverer of this small bit of land as well as being the first to record the circumnavigation of New Zealand. At the time of his travels, the area was mostly uncharted so his information and ability to create maps was as important as his actual discoveries. During his third trip, he was killed in Hawaii during a confrontation with the natives. He was 50 years old at the time. His legacy was to influence succeeding naval discovery for over a hundred years.

Also on this day: The South Shall Rise Again – In 1865 six men began the KKK, then a simple social club.
Shhhhhh! – In 1818, Silent Night was written.
Eggnog Riot – In 1826, a riot broke out at West Point.

Survivor, The Real Story

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2013
Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crash

December 23, 1972: Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 concludes. The Fairchild FH-227D twin turboprop plane was carrying the Stella Maris College rugby team, the Old Christians. The plane left the Carrasco International Airport (Cuidad, Uruguay) on October 12. Bad weather forced an overnight stop in Mendoza, Argentina. The plane was not able to fly at altitudes greater than 29,500 feet and so could not fly a straight path to Santiago, Chile over the Andes Mountains. Because of fog, the pilot misjudged his position and was not clear of the mountain range as he began to alter course.

Unable to see clearly in the cloud cover, the plane clipped a mountain top at 13,800 feet which severed the right wing. The wing blew backwards and removed the tail stabilizer. A second peak removed the left wing. The fuselage, with gaping holes already present, impacted a mountain and slid down the slope before being stopped by a snow bank. Of the 45 people aboard, 12 died in the crash. By morning, another 5 people were dead. Many of those who survived were injured.

The survivors were faced with harsh weather and lacked the appropriate clothing or footwear. Two of the rugby players were medical students. They treated the injured with makeshift supplies. Searches were launched from 3 countries but the white plane blended in with the snow. The searches were cancelled after 8 days and on that same day, another victim died of injuries. A transistor radio on the plane worked and the survivors heard the search was called off. They knew they had to effect their own rescue. Food and water became an issue soon after the crash. In a move of direst necessity, the survivors turned to cannibalism.

Eight more young people died in an avalanche on October 29. On December 12, after preparing as best as the meager resources allowed, three men set off in search of help. What they found was mountains and more mountains. Two men kept hiking for days (the other returned to the crash site). They followed a river and began to see signs of humans. Nearly exhausted to death, they saw a man on horseback. They now had help and finally got word out to the police, calling for aid. Helicopters were dispatched and were led back to the crash site. On December 22, half of the survivors were taken out, with rescue crews staying behind. On this day, the rest of the survivors left the mountain. Sixteen people had survived.

“‘Hey boys,’ Gustavo [Coco] Nicolich shouted, ‘there’s some good news! We just heard on the radio. They’ve called off the search.’ Inside the crowded plane there was silence. As the hopelessness of their predicament enveloped them, they wept. ‘Why the hell is that good news?’ Paez shouted angrily at Nicolich. ‘Because it means,’ [Nicolich] said, ‘that we’re going to get out of here on our own.’ The courage of this one boy prevented a flood of total despair.” –  Piers Paul Read

“At high altitude, the body’s caloric needs are astronomical … we were starving in earnest, with no hope of finding food, but our hunger soon grew so voracious that we searched anyway … again and again we scoured the fuselage in search of crumbs and morsels.” – Nando Parrado

“We decided that this book should be written and the truth known because of the many rumors about what happened in the cordillera.” – Piers Paul Read

“In fact, our survival had become a matter of national pride. Our ordeal was being celebrated as a glorious adventure… I didn’t know how to explain to them that there was no glory in those mountains. It was all ugliness and fear and desperation, and the obscenity of watching so many innocent people die.” – Nando Parrado

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: When the survivors were brought off the mountain, they originally stuck by a tale of living off cheese they had with them. They wished to first speak with their families but they were pushed into the public eye. After it was all over, a priest accompanied the rescuers and buried the bodies of the deceased about 250 feet away from the crash site. Eventually, the survivors participated in the making of two books, two films, and a website. Piers Paul Read had interviewed the survivors and their families and was the first to come out with a book on the catastrophe. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors came out two years after the rescue. Nando Parrado, one of the young men on the mountain, wrote a book 34 years later called Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home. There have been a total of six movies or television productions about the crash and survival, not all of them with actual survivor participation.

Also on this day: Jolly Old Elf – In 1823, Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published.
Tokyo Tower – In 1958, Tokyo Tower was dedicated.
Around the World in Nine Days – In 1986, the Voyager landed at Edwards Air Force Base completing a non-stop trip around the world.

First PM

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 22, 2013
Itō Hirobumi

Itō Hirobumi

December 22, 1885: Itō Hirobumi becomes the first Prime Minister of Japan. Japan had been ruled by Shoguns for centuries, sometimes with nods to the Emperor and sometimes not. The Meiji Restoration was a period of conflict between Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last of the shoguns, and Emperor Kōmei (Emperor Meiji’s father). On November 9, 1867 the 15th Tokugawa Shogun placed “his prerogatives at the Emperor’s disposal.” Ten days later, he resigned as Shogun.

The English-language term for the head of government is Prime Minister. In Japan, the literal translation for the post is “Prime Minister of the Cabinet.” The Emperor of Japan appoints the Prime Minister after the Diet (bicameral legislature of Japan) puts forth one of their members for the post. The Prime Minister must have the support of the House of Representatives. As head of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister controls who becomes and retains the positions of Ministers of State.

Hirobumi was born in 1841 to an adopted son of a lower class samurai. He received samurai status in 1863 and was one of the Chōshū Five, five young men permitted to study in London. He was influenced by Western culture during his year at University College London. He returned to Japan and counseled against foreign wars. After the Meiji Restoration, Hirobumi was appointed governor of Hyōgo Prefecture, junior council for Foreign Affairs, and sent to the US to study Western Currency systems.

Hirobumi was the 1st, 5th, 7th, and 10th Prime Minister of Japan, spending about 8 years in the role overall. The post was created based on Western systems of governance. Hirobumi resigned on April 30, 1888 to head the Privy Council where he could retain power behind the scenes. He again took on the role of Prime Minister with varying degrees of success. Tired of the political games, in-fighting, and back stabbing, he resigned for good in 1901. In 1905 he became Resident-General of Korea and was assassinated by a Korean national on October 26, 1909.

“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” – P.J. O’Rourke

“No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe.  No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.  Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.” – Winston Churchill

“The worst thing in this world, next to anarchy, is government.” – Henry Ward Beecher

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Japan is an archipelago to the east of continental Asia. There are 6,852 islands making up the nation with the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Tokyo is the capital and located on Honshu. The greater metropolitan area holds 30 million people making it the largest metropolitan area in the world. There is no official language for the 126 million Japanese citizens, but four languages predominate with several other dialects available. They give the date of February 11, 660 BC as their founding date with the Meiji Constitution coming into effect on November 29, 1890 and their current constitution taking effect May 3, 1947. Emperor Akihito rules with the help of Prime minister Shinzō Abe. Japan has officially denounced the right to declare war, but it still maintains a military presence backed with a budget that make it the fifth largest in the world, just slightly ahead of the France’s.

Also on this day: March to the Sea – In 1864, General Sherman finished his march into Savannah, Georgia.
Fly Ash – In 2008, the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant’s dike collapsed.
Under Water – In 1937, The Lincoln Tunnel in NYC was opened.