Little Bits of History

April 20

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2017

1818: The case of William Ashford v Abraham Thornton ends. In 1817 Thornton was charged with the murder of Mary Ashford. Mary was around 20 years old at the time of her death and worked as a general servant and housekeeper in Warwichshire, England. Her father was a gardener near Erdington. On May 26, 1817, she worked as usual and then went to a Hannah Cox’s house to change into party clothes. Hannah also lived in Erdington. The two young women then went to the Tyburn House where an annual dance was held. Thornton was also there and the 24 year old was taken with Mary. He was either a “well-looking fellow” or “of repulsive appearance” as descriptions differ. He was with Mary at the party and she and Hannah left with Thornton to walk home around 11 PM.

Hannah wanted to continue onto her grandfather’s house since it was closer to her place of employment and she and Thornton continued on while Hannah went home. Around 2.45 AM Thornton was seen leaving a friend’s house in the company of a woman who shielded her face with her bonnet. Just before 4 AM, Mary was at Hannah’s house in order to collect her work clothes and then she hurried away. A late partygoer saw her leaving Hannah’s house in a hurry. Around 6 AM a passing laborer saw a woman’s blood-covered shoe near a water filled pit. He called for help, the pit was dredged, and Mary’s body was found. There were two sets of footprints in the mud leading up to the pit, a man’s and a woman’s, but only the man’s left.

Thornton was found and he admitted to having been with Mary and having had sex with her. He claimed it was consensual. He denied having seen her after 4 AM. He was charged with murder and the townspeople were of the opinion that he was guilty of both murder and rape. The trial began on August 8, 1817 and a crowd rushed in to see the spectacle (women were not permitted because of the nature of the evidence). There were eleven witnesses able to provide an alibi for Thornton. The jury came back with a not guilty verdict in only six minutes. Thornton was freed, but Mary’s brother was outraged. William brought an appeal of murder against Thornton which was issued on October 1, 1817 and Thornton was once again arrested.

The Ashford family tried to find evidence to implicate Thornton but finally on April 16, 1818 the court ruled in favor of Thornton. Thornton had offered to meet Ashford in battle, an old Norman law still on the books. Ashford was unable to withstand a physical battle with his larger opponent and on this day had to decide to allow him to go free. The old law was predicated on the idea that God would side with the innocent and allow him to kill off the opponent. This was the last time this law was invoked as it was soon removed from British law.

Can it be possible that this “wager of battle” is being seriously insisted on? Am I to understand that this monstrous proposition as being propounded by the bar—that we, the judges of the Court of King’s Bench—the recognized conservators of the public peace, are to become not merely the spectators, but the abettors of a mortal combat? Is that what you require of us? – Irish Chief Justice William Downes, refusing to invoke trial by battle in 1815

I am sorry to say that difficulties have been started likely to occasion much trouble and perhaps ultimate defeat. it seems the Appellee [Thornton] has the option of waging Battle and of challenging the Appellor [William Ashford] in single combat which if not accepted by the Appellor the suit is lost and, if accepted, and the Appellee can hold out from sun rise to sun set, then he wins the contest and claims his discharge, otherwise his election subjects him not only to a good threshing but also the pain of death into the bargain. – William Bedford, November 11, 1817 (Thornton’s lawyer)

The discussion which has taken place here, and the consideration which has been given to the facts alleged, most conclusively show that this is not a case that can admit of no denial or proof to the contrary; under these circumstances, however obnoxious I am myself to the trial by battle, it is the mode of trial which we, in our judicial character, are bound to award. We are delivering the law as it is, and not as we wish it to be, and therefore we must pronounce our judgment, that the battle must take place. – Lord Ellenborough

If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable. – Louis D. Brandeis


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2015
Vädersolstavlan, sun dogs over Stockholm

Vädersolstavlan, sun dogs over Stockholm

April 20, 1535: Sun dogs appear in Stockholm. For two hours in the morning on this date, the skies over Stockholm were filled with white circles and arcs spreading across the sky. Additional suns (sun dogs) appeared around the morning sun. Many unknown phenomena were attributed to an angry God and this was no exception. God was said to be upset with King Gustav Vasa for introducing Protestantism into Sweden as well as his hard treatment of allies to his enemy, the Danish king. The Lutheran scholar Olaus Petri hoped to forestall rumors and ordered a painting produced to document the event. Vädersolstavlan (artist unknown but attributed to Urban Målare), did not help since the king saw it as a conspiracy.

Sun dogs are also called mock suns or phantom suns. Their scientific name is parhelia with parhelion being the singular. They are an atmospheric phenomenon where two bright spots appear around the sun, one on each side. There is often a luminous ring known as a 22⁰ halo at the same time. Sun dogs are a subset of halos which also include light pillars. Ice crystals suspended in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds about 3-6 miles up in the sky (the upper troposphere) are responsible. In cold weather, ice crystals lower to the ground can also produce the phenomenon. When this happens, they are called diamond dust.

The ice crystals act as prisms or mirrors and reflect or refract the light. They may split up into colors because of dispersion. The halo effect appears as a large ring round the Sun or Moon and has a radius of about 22⁰, hence the name. These ice crystals are semi-random in the atmosphere. Because of the arrangement of the crystals, no light is reflected back inside the circle and it makes the sky appear darker inside the halo and gives an impression of a “hole in the sky”. This is not a corona, an entirely different phenomenon. For sun dogs and light pillars, the ice crystals need to be in a horizontal alignment.

Sun dogs can be seen anywhere in the world during any season. They are most obvious and brightest when they are close to the horizon. Usually, the ice crystals involved are plate-shaped and hexagonal. The weather is usually very cold. The crystals act as prisms and light passes through them at a minimum deflection of 22⁰. As the crystals float down in the atmosphere, their large faces are almost horizontal to the sunlight. This makes the sun dogs appear to the right and left of the Sun. Since larger plates wobble more as they drift, they produce taller sun dogs. They are red colored at the edge closer to the sun and the colors fade through oranges to blue at the other side. The colors overlap and are not as distinct as in a rainbow. The reason for the term “sun dog” is unknown but seems to be Scandinavian in origin.

You’ve seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks in the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it’s an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it? – John Steinbeck

It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are… than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise. – Henry David Thoreau

Get your head out of the clouds. Stop huffing the atmosphere. – Jarod Kintz

There are no walls in the atmosphere. – Kim Prather

Also on this day: Whodunit? – In 1841, the first mystery story is published.
Germ Theory – In 1862, Pasteur demonstrated his new theory.
Ludlow Massacre – In 1914, mining riots took place in Colorado resulting in 22 dead.
Two – In 1964, BBC2 launched.
Annie Hall – In 1977, the movie premiered.

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Annie Hall

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2014
Annie Hall

Annie Hall

April 20, 1977: Annie Hall premieres. The movie starred Woody Allen and Diane Keaton and was directed by Allen. The screen play was written by Allen and Marshall Brickman and produced by Charles H. Joffe. The role of Annie Hall was written specifically for Keaton and the film explores the reasons for the failure of a relationship between Hall and Alvy Singer, played by Allen. Filming began on May 19, 1976 on Long Island and continued for the next ten months with breaks between filming sessions for the 93 minute movie. The cost of filming was $4 million and the movie made $38,251,425 at the box office. The film was screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival in March 1977 before its official opening on this date.

The film explores many different facets of a relationship doomed from the start by the disparity of the two participants. There are many who believe the movie to be autobiographical, something Allen dismisses. Although he and Keaton did have a relationship, Allen maintains that the movie roles are too enmeshed in hyperbole to be actual people. Areas covered by the movie itself point out differences between New York City and Los Angeles as well as the stereotypes of differences in sexuality displayed by the two protagonists. Also visited are the Jewish identity and the use of psychoanalysis and modernism.

Diane Keaton, nee Hall, was born on January 5, 1946 in Los Angeles. She is an actress, director, producer, and screenwriter. She made her acting debut in 1970 and her first major role was in The Godfather (1972). She made several movies with Allen and this, her fourth, won her the Oscar for Best Actress. After this movie, she made a concerted effort to break out of the mold created by Annie Hall and expand her repertoire of roles. She has acted in dozens of films which have brought in over $1 billion total at the box office. She is currently filming three different movies with two due to be released this year and the third, Finding Dory, to be released in 2016. She has won many awards over the years with seven of them for this movie alone.

Woody Allen, nee Allan Stewart Konigsberg, was born on December 1, 1935 in The Bronx, New York. He is an actor, director, and producer whose career has spanned more than half a century. He began working as a comedy writer and wrote short humorous pieces. His early stand-up comedy persona was that of an insecure, intellectual, fretful nebbish (Jewish milquetoast). He played the part so well he has had to work to convince the world it is only a role. His first movie, What’s New Pussycat? came out in 1965 and his latest film in which he acted is Fading Gigolo, due out later this year.  He has been nominated for 59 major awards and won fifteen times as well as many other awards. His personal life has been chaotic and has made headlines many times.

Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go its pretty damn good.

If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.

I believe there is something out there watching us. Unfortunately, it’s the government.

Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering – and it’s all over much too soon. – all from Woody Allen

Also on this day: Whodunit? – In 1841, the first mystery story is published.
Germ Theory – In 1862, Pasteur demonstrated his new theory.
Ludlow Massacre – In 1914, mining riots took place in Colorado resulting in 22 dead.
Two – In 1964, BBC2 launched.

Germ Theory

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2013
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur

April 20, 1862: Louis Pasteur and Claude Bernard complete their first test demonstrating a new theory. Long ago it was believed diseases were spontaneously generated or without prior cause. Others theorized “minute bodies” invaded a person and caused a disease. Contagion was seen as a method of transfer of the tiny creatures, but the creatures remained unseen. Experiments were set up and spontaneous generation was shown to be impossible.

Pasteur was not the first to propose germ theory as a contagion method. He did, however, conduct easily reproducible experiments and was influential in convincing others of the validity of the theory. He proved some germs were responsible for fermentation. Some of the tiny invaders were present from the beginning and some were airborne. By a process of heating most germs present in raw milk would be killed, making the milk safer. The process, called pasteurization, was proven on this date. It is not the same as sterilization, which kills all pathogens.

Claude Bernard, French physiologist, was a proponent of the scientific method. By rigorous methodology he debunked many of the “truths” of his day. He studied the pancreas and liver and proved the existence of vaso-motor nerves. He advanced the theory of homeostasis, or the process by which the body regulates functions in response to external environmental influences. He sought clarification by any method and used vivisection, a practice which prompted his wife to leave him and to actively campaign for its eradication.

Louis Pasteur went on to study vaccines. He worked first with chickens to eradicate avian cholera. He then developed an anthrax vaccine for cattle. Edward Jenner had used cowpox, a less virulent disease, to protect against smallpox, an often lethal disease. Pasteur furthered the idea by artificially weakening the causative agent. A rabies vaccine was developed and used on 9-year-old Joseph Meister on July 6, 1885. The boy lived. The Pasteur Institute was established on July 4, 1887 and continues to expand medical knowledge with about 250 scientists teaching and mentoring 800 students at the Institute each year.

“When we meet a fact which contradicts a prevailing theory, we must accept the fact and abandon the theory, even when the theory is supported by great names and generally accepted.” – Claude Bernard

“The constancy of the internal environment is the condition for a free and independent life.” – Claude Bernard

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.” – Louis Pasteur

“There does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science. There are science and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit of the tree which bears it.” – Louis Pasteur

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The Pasteur Institute is a French non-profit foundation. It was founded as stated above and inaugurated on November 14, 1888. They have remained vigilant in fighting infectious diseases. The Institute was the first to isolate HIV, the causative virus behind AIDS, back in 1983. They are based in Paris and between 1908 and 2008, eight Pasteur Institute scientists have been the recipients of the Nobel Prize for medicine physiology with two scientists sharing the 2008 award. They have done definitive research into diphtheria, tetanus, TB, polio, influenza, yellow fever, and plague. The Institute was active during both World Wars not only in the prevention of sanitary risks, but also in dealing with the demands of a stressed culture and environment. Their most critical task was vaccinating the troops against typhoid fever which was easily contracted because of standing pools of water.

Also on this day: Whodunit? – In 1841 the first mystery story is published.
Ludlow Massacre – In 1914, mining riots took place in Colorado resulting in 22 dead.
Two – In 1964, BBC2 launched.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2012

April 20, 1964: BBC2 launches without much success. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was launched in 1922 by a group of six telecommunications companies and with John Reith as General Manager of the radio station. Radio came alive with the 33-year-old at the helm and daily programming began over the station. Both weather forecasts and news  bulletins were first presented to the public on November 14, 1922. Arthur Burrows read each bulletin twice, once quickly and then a second time, more slowly. Listeners were then encouraged to let the station know which presentation was better. In 1927 a Royal Charter transformed the private radio station into a public one paid for by a licensing fee. The Charter expires in 2017. The BBC did not derive from a parliamentary statute.

In 1932 the BBC began experimental television broadcasts which became a regular service in 1936. The BBC Television Service used an upgraded delivery system giving better reception for British citizens. Television broadcasts were suspended during World War II. Competition in television service came in 1955 with the introduction of ITV, but the BBC held on to its monopoly for radio until the 1970s. The quality of ITV was met with disapproval. The picture was less defined and the programming was low quality.

BBC decided to begin a second television station – BBC2 (BBC Two as of 1997). This meant the original station was named BBC1. Higher resolution pictures were broadcast. The station was set to go live at 7:20 PM on this day with a schedule of light entertainment. The Alberts opened the evening’s lineup. Earlier in the day (at 6:45 PM) a fire at the Battersea Power Station caused a loss of power at Television Central. BBC1 could broadcast from Alexander Palace, but BBC2 was forced to shut down by 8 PM.

By 11 AM the next morning, power was restored and BBC2 was back on the air. The first show to actually be broadcast from the station was Play School. The programs from the unsuccessful opening lineup were shown in their entirety the following evening. Today, the BBC has eight national television channels plus regional programming. They have ten national radio stations and forty local stations. They also have a web presence. BBC programming can be seen around the world and is presented in 32 languages. The corporation is governed by the BBC Trust with Sir Michael Lyons the current Trust Chairman.

I believe that the BBC, in spite of the stupidity of its foreign propaganda and the unbearable voices of its announcers, is very truthful. It is generally regarded here as more reliable than the press. – George Orwell

BBC Radio is a never-never land of broadcasting, a safe haven from commercial considerations, a honey pot for every scholar and every hare-brained nut to stick a finger into. – Morley Safer

The word ‘conservative’ is used by the BBC as a portmanteau word of abuse for anyone whose views differ from the insufferable, smug, sanctimonious, naive, guilt-ridden, wet, pink orthodoxy of that sunset home of the third-rate minds of that third-rate decade, the nineteen-sixties. –  Norman Tebbit

The BBC produces wonderful programmes; it also produces a load of old rubbish. – Jonathan Dimbleby

Also on this day:

Whodunit? – In 1841 the first mystery story is published.
Germ Theory – In 1862, Pasteur demonstrated his new theory.
Ludlow Massacre – In 1914, mining riots took place in Colorado resulting in 22 dead.

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Ludlow Massacre

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2011

After the tent colony was burned.

April 20, 1914: Twenty-two people die in the Ludlow massacre in Colorado. The coal miners had been striking for 14 months prior to this date without success. The union had asked for seven points to be granted including that the union be recognized as a bargaining unit, increase in pay scale, eight hour work days, payment for “dead time” work, and mandated following of Colorado laws, especially concerning safety in the mines.

Between the years of 1884 and 1912 over 1,700 miners had died in Colorado. This was between two and three-and-a-half times the national average. Miners were not paid for “dead time” work such as laying rails, timbering, and shoring up walls. Safety measures were not enforced and if a miner wished to make his job safer, he was not paid for the labor. He also lived in company towns that had a reputation of charging higher rates for goods and services.

By the 1890s the gold and silver miners had unionized. Beginning in 1900 the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had begun to organize the mines without much appreciable gain. Miners felt that they were not only overworked, but that the scales did not weigh correctly further shorting them on earned pay. By the fall of 1913, the UMWA went on strike. They had leased land by the canyon mouths so that families could set up tents away from the company towns and the men could watch for strike breakers coming in to work.

The Colorado National Guard was called out in October 1913 after several run-ins with scabs that resulted in violence and even death. By spring of the next year, tensions had escalated. On this date, Guardsmen approached the tent camp demanding the “release” of a man who they said was being held against his will. As this was happening their peers were setting up a machine gun on a nearby ridge. The fight lasted all day. At 7 PM a train stopped between the ridge and the tent city and allowed for many of the strikers and their families to escape. The tents were set on fire. Four women and 11 children trapped in a pit under a tent were consumed by the flames. Three other strikers were shot and killed. Three company guards and one militia man were also killed. The president had to send in federal troops to calm rioting here and at other camps that resulted in 69-199 deaths, depending on the report read. The union demands were not met.

“I think we all care just as much about our coal miners as we do our deer and turkey.” – Steve Earle

“Coal miners face their worst nightmare. Drilling, pumping and praying.” – Jim Richardson

“Man has a primary property right to his person and his labor.” – unknown

“This is a union that knows how to prepare a strike and knows how to win.” – Kate Bronfenbrenner

Also on this day:
Whodunit? – In 1841 the first mystery story is published.
Germ Theory – In 1862, Pasteur demonstrated his new theory.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 20, 2010

Murders in the Rue Morgue movie poster

April 20, 1841: The first mystery story is published – “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe. The short story saw print in Graham’s Magazine. This story was followed by others centered on the intellectual conquests of C. Auguste Dupin. The story is a locked room case focusing on the intellectual pursuit of the detective rather than the eerie setting of the crime. Dupin is a Paris intellectual, he is not a detective. But by ratiocination, the term Poe used, Dupin placed himself via his vivid imagination into the mind of the criminal. He seemed to read the criminal’s mind and could therefore solve the case. He went on to solve “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter.”

Sherlock Holmes carried on the tradition of reasoning out a solution to a crime. Gathering evidence, finding clues, taking the reader along on the chase and befuddled by red herrings strewn along the path to discovery.

Agatha Christie wrote more than 80 novels in more than 50 years of publishing and gave us both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. She was, perhaps, the best known author during the Golden Age of the Mystery. However, Dorothy L. Sayers, a contemporary of Christie, was also a major contributor. Both of these authors were British.

In America, Ellery Queen was thrilling audiences with 33 novels written over a 40 year span. Erle Stanley Gardner gave us Perry Mason, the lawyer who solved mysteries with Paul Drake and Della Street’s help. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe rarely even left his house to solve the mysteries brought to his door. Today’s famous series writers are Sue Grafton with her alphabet of cases for Kinsey Millhone and Robert B. Parker’s Spencer, chasing down the bad guys in Boston. P.D. James has her British policemen solving crimes while Dick Francis uses a backdrop of horse racing while solving mysteries.

“At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable.” – Raymond Chandler

“I’ve always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worry and only half the royalties.” – Agatha Christie

“Send it to someone who can publish it. And if they won’t publish it, send it to someone else who can publish it! And keep sending it! Of course, if no one will publish it, at that point you might want to think about doing something other than writing.” – Robert B. Parker

“Sherlock Holmes is a massive figure in people’s minds. More massive than a lot of real historical characters – these figures have real weight. They might be just made out of words and paper, but their effect in the world can be massive, if they’ve got the right kind of mass, the right kind of gravity and momentum.” – Alan Moore

Also on this day, in 1862 Louis Pasteur proved his pasteurization process making us all safer.