Little Bits of History

For the Rest of Us

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2015


December 23, 1997: Festivus is celebrated on television. Editor and author Daniel O’Keefe’s family celebrated Festivus as early as 1966 but in their family, the holiday was celebrated as family tensions rose and any time between December and May. In 1982, O’Keefe wrote a book dealing with rituals and the social significance found in them, a theme relevant to his family’s made-up holiday. The name of the holiday is not based on the Latin for festival which is also festivus. The first Festivus was celebrated in February 1966 when O’Keefe went out on his first date with the woman who would eventually become his wife. Today, the holiday is celebrated each year on December 23 because his son wrote an episode on this holiday for Seinfeld.

“The Strike” was written by Daniel and his son, Dan, O’Keefe and aired on December 18, 1997. It was the 166th episode of the NBC sitcom and appeared in the last season of Seinfeld’s ten year run. In the episode, Jerry, George, and Elaine discussed the holiday which George’s father had created – Festivus. Kramer learned of the holiday when George’s father visited the bagel shop where Kramer had recently returned to work and described the alternative to Christmas. He had created the holiday as a protest to the commercialization of Christmas.

Meanwhile, George didn’t wish to buy any presents and created a fake charity, The Human Fund. George’s boss donated $20,000 to the fund and when he found out that is wasn’t a true charity, questioned George. George, who had a knack for turning something a little bit bad into something awful, decided to use Festivus as his excuse and explained that he was fearful of repercussions due to his beliefs. George’s boss didn’t actually buy the idea and went with George to his home to see the holiday celebration in action. Kramer became upset when his boss didn’t give him time off from work for his Festivus celebrations and went out on strike. He was seen picketing the bagel shop. George convinced his friends to help him out and they had a Festivus celebration in order to show George’s boss how real the holiday was.

According to Seinfeld, part of the celebration was the “Airing of Grievances” which took place while eating dinner. Each person got to tell the others how they have disappointed the raconteur during the past year. After dinner, the “Feats of Strength” were performed and if the head of the household could be pinned, the holiday ended. A Festivus pole was an aluminum pole of specific tensile strength which was unadorned and dinner was a meatloaf concoction served on a bed of lettuce. None of these were part of the original O’Keefe celebration. Festivus can be celebrated today and many people are able to have a bit of fun on December 23 thanks to the sitcom.

The real symbol of the holiday was a clock that my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year…I don’t know why, I don’t know what it means, he would never tell me. He would always say, ‘That’s not for you to know.’ – Dan O’Keefe

Festivus yes! Bagels no! – Cosmo Kramer

It’s Festivus… for the rest of us! – Frank Costanza

Kramer: Is there a tree?
Frank: No. Instead, there’s a pole. Requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting.

Also on this day: Jolly Old Elf – In 1823, Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published.
Survivor, The Real Story – In 1972, the Andes flight disaster finally came to an end.
Tokyo Tower – In 1958, Tokyo Tower was dedicated.
Around the World in Nine Days – In 1986, the Voyager landed at Edwards Air Force Base and completed a non-stop trip around the world.
Another One Bites the Dust – In 679, King Dagobert II was murdered.

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Another One Bites the Dust

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2014
King Dagobert II by Michael Nicholson

King Dagobert II by Michael Nicholson

December 23, 679: King Dagobert II is murdered. The Austrasian king ruled what is today parts of France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The kingdom was begun when Clovis I died in 511 and his four sons divided his lands with Theuderic I receiving Austrasia. The region under control grew over time as more lands were conquered and brought under rule. Over the decades, lands and rulers came and went depending on the strength of both the king and his queen, as the queens were able to fight each other as well. Dagobert II was the son of Sigibert III of the Merovingian line. With political intrigue inside the palace, Sigebert III adopted Childebert before he had children of his own.

When Sigebert died in 656, Childebert’s father seized the throne for his son and had Dagobert tonsured (a symbol of religious devotion and humility as well as a sign of his being unfit to rule). Dagobert was exiled. His mother may have been a conspirator in his travails. Dagobert was given to Desiderius, Bishop of Pointers and then sent to a monastery in Ireland in order to be trained as a page for the English court. He may have married while in exile or it may be a tale to help establish a link between some abbeys and the Merovingian line.

The nobles of Austrasia appealed to Clovis II, king of Neustria who got rid of Childebert and his father but kept the lands for his own to rule. There was a need to give the Austrasians their own king and several tries were made to set up a puppet throne unsuccessfully. After a prince was murdered on a hunt in 675, Dagobert was returned to the lands and eventually took the throne in 676. He was about 26 years old by the time he was made king. The power struggle of the times remained at play with the young man’s reign given mostly to establishing cloisters and abbeys in his kingdom while other vied for the power of the throne.

The conflict between Neustria and Austrasia was not truly quelled. On this day, with history repeating itself, Dagobert was murdered while on a hunting trip. Near Stenay-sur-Meuse in the Ardennes, Dagobert met his end, probably on the orders of Ebroin, mayor of the palace in Neustria. Dagobert had no male heir and so the lands were divided among the lords of the Rhineland. Pippin II, Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia essentially ruled the lands while the throne remained empty until after the battle of Tertry in 687 when Theuderic III became the new king. Dagobert was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church and his feast day is celebrated on December 23.

Those who have wrought great changes in the world never succeeded by gaining over chiefs; but always by exciting the multitude. The first is the resource of intrigue and produces only secondary results, the second is the resort of genius and transforms the universe. – Martin Van Buren

Society bristles with enigmas which look hard to solve. It is a perfect maze of intrigue. – Honore de Balzac

Most governments do have inbuilt biases in favour of the rich and powerful, and most do contain plenty of manipulators who love intrigue, who have lost whatever moral compass they may once have had and who protect themselves with steely cynicism. – Geoff Mulgan

There is a fundamental difference between men and women – women need romance, men need intrigue. – Sherry Argov

Also on this day: Jolly Old Elf – In 1823, Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published.
Survivor, The Real Story – In 1972, the Andes flight disaster finally comes to an end.
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.

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.

Around the World in Nine Days

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2012
The Voyager in flight

The Voyager in flight

December 23, 1986: The Voyager lands at Edwards Air Force Base. The plane had been flown by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager. The designer of the plane was Burt Rutan after the three conceived of its design at lunch back in 1981. It took five years to build the plane out in Mojave, California. The plane was built for record breaking and was constructed of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and Kevlar. It weighed just 939 pounds when empty. Once the engines were added, the weight increased to 2,250 pounds. On the flight, it had to be fully loaded with fuel, for the goal of the flight was to make it around the world. With all the fuel aboard, it weighed in at 9,694.5 pounds.

Although the plane had been successfully tested back in July, it had been a much shorter flight lasting only 111 hours and 44 minutes. A test flight in September had to be aborted after a propeller blade mishap. New propellers were installed and successfully tested in November. The world record world trip began at 8:01 AM local time at Edwards Air Force Base on December 14. There were 3,500 witnesses as media personnel from around the world came to see the take-off. The fuel was stored in the wings which made them less resilient. As the plane taxied to gain airspeed and altitude, the wings scraped against the runway and caused damage to the tips. The weight distribution had never been an issue in any of the 67 test flights because Voyager had never been fully fueled before.

The plane slowly accelerated and it took 2.7 miles to gain enough speed for lift, but finally the plane was in the air. Because it was essential to cut weight, there was little room in the cockpit. The two pilots were cramped and they had planned to take turns with each flying for a three-hour shift. However, the plane was more difficult to handle than they had anticipated and this plan did not pan out. The plane flew, but there was constant pitch instability and the plane itself was quite fragile. This meant that flying through inclement weather was risky. They had to circle around the 600-mile-wide typhoon, Marge. Libya also refused to allow the plane in their air space, diverting the craft and using more fuel.

Despite all these hardships, the plane was nearing California and making it around the world. Just when it seemed everything would work out well, one of the fuel pumps failed. The pilots were able to overcome this by pumping fuel from the other side of the aircraft. They managed to land in front of 55,000 spectators with touch down at 8:06 AM on this day, nine days, three minutes, and 44 seconds after take-off. They traveled 24,986 miles and their average speed was 116 mph. They had 106 pounds of fuel left in the tanks which was only about 1.5% of the fuel they started with. They had made it. They had circumnavigated the planet, crossed the equator twice, and made their non-stop, non-refueled flight around the world.

Adventure is the essence of life.

Anything that happened to the others could happen to us.

The space domain for manned spaceflight is no longer the domain of a huge bureaucracy spending billions of dollars. We can do it privately.

The trajectory was good, the roll was off. I was worried. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. – all from Dick Rutan

Also on this day:

Jolly Old Elf – In 1823, Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published.
Survivor, The Real Story – In 1972, the Andes flight disaster finally comes to an end.
Tokyo Tower – In 1958, Tokyo Tower was dedicated.

Tokyo Tower

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2011

Tokyo Tower

December 23, 1958: Tokyo Tower is dedicated. Still standing, it is a communications and observation tower located in Shiba Park, Minato, Tokyo, Japan. It stands 1,091 feet tall and at the time of its construction, it was the tallest artificial structure in Japan. It has since been superseded by the Tokyo Sky Tree which is not yet completed and open to the public. This newer structure, also a tower, is already it’s full height of 2,080 feet high and is scheduled to open in February of next year.

Japan’s public broadcasting station began television service in 1953. Private broadcasting soon followed and a transmission tower was needed. Also, at the end of World War II, Japan was looking for a monument to inspire national pride. The plan at the time was to build something taller than the Empire State Building, which was then the tallest building in the world. However, the plan fell through and something else was needed. The tower that was built instead was inspired by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The tower needed to not only withstand earthquakes, but also the winds of typhoons or hurricanes.

In June 1957, ground was broken for the new construction project. At least 400 workers were on the project each day during the building phase. The tower is made of steel and one-third of it was scrap metal taken from US tanks damaged during the Korean War. On October 14, when the 90-meter antenna was added to the top of the tower, it was the tallest self-supporting structure in the world. It remained the tallest artificial structure in Japan until 2010. Construction costs were $8.4 million. The tower is painted white and international orange to comply with air safety requirements.

The tower still has antennae used for TV and radio, which were first added in 1961. However, it was inadequate for digital transmissions and so the newer tower was needed. Today, the tower’s main source of revenue is tourism as well as leasing the antennae. Under the tower is a four-story building called FootTown with museums, restaurants, and shops. There are two observation decks, one at 490 feet and the other smaller one at 820 feet. Since it opened on this day, over 150 million people have come to visit.

“A well-ordered life is like climbing a tower; the view halfway up is better than the view from the base, and it steadily becomes finer as the horizon expands.” – William Lyon Phelps

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” – Saint Augustine

“My father was always anxious to give pleasure to his children. Accordingly, he took me one day, as a special treat, to the top of the grand old tower, to see the chimes played.” – James Nasmyth

“When the ivy has found its tower, when the delicate creeper has found its strong wall, we know how the parasite plants grow and prosper.” – Anthony Trollope

Also on this day:

Jolly Old Elf – In 1823, Twas the Night Before Christmas was first published.
Survivor, The Real Story – In 1972, the Andes flight disaster finally comes to an end.

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Jolly Old Elf

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 23, 2010

Cover of a 1912 edition of the poem, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith

December 23, 1823: A Visit From St. Nicholas is first published in the Troy, New York paper, the Sentinel. The poem is a tribute to a yearly visit from one of the world’s favorite guests. There is a second name for the poem that is more familiar – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Authorship is contested but is usually given to Clement Moore, a professor at Columbia College [now University] over claims made by Henry Livingston, Jr.’s family.

Saint Nicholas was Bishop from the area that today is known as Turkey. He lived in the 4th century and was a wealthy man. He was also generous and was fond of children. Legend states that he took bags of money and tossed it into the windows of the poor. He was canonized, or made a saint, by the Catholic Church and his feast day was celebrated on December 6.

St. Nicholas’s fame spread across Europe. In the Netherlands his name was rendered as Sinter Nikolass which got shortened into Sinter Klass. During his move from Asia Minor to Europe, other stories were added to the myth. He was given a horse to ride through the night skies. He was also given a helper, an elf named Black Peter. After the Reformation, St. Nicholas’s sharing of gifts was moved from his feast day to another famous day in December. Instead of honoring just the saint, it was thought to be better to honor an important Christian birthday, Jesus’ – celebrated on December 25.

As the Dutch settled in New Amsterdam or as known today, New York, they brought their celebrations with them. Sinter Klass was one of the traditions enjoyed by families. The American slurring of the name changed it to Santa Claus. Washington Irving wrote a detailed story about his excursions in 1809. More details were added to Santa’s legacy by this poem. Thomas Nast, a famous cartoonist, literally fleshed out our picture of Santa, giving him his girth as well as his toyshop at the North Pole. Santa sat in a sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer, right up until 1939 when Rudolph was needed to get through a thick fog.

“Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year.” – Victor Borge

“When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” – G.K. Chesterton

“The Church does not superstitiously observe days, merely as days, but as memorials of important facts. Christmas might be kept as well upon one day of the year as another; but there should be a stated day for commemorating the birth of our Saviour, because there is danger that what may be done on any day, will be neglected.” – Samuel Johnson

“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!’” – from the poem

Also on this day, in 1972 the Andes flight disaster finally comes to an end.