Little Bits of History

System Error Leads to Traditional Tracking

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 24, 2015
The original Sears ad with a misprint

The original Sears ad with a misprint

December 24, 1955: A Sears department store ad contains a misprint. The Colorado Springs newspaper ran an advertisement telling children they could telephone Santa Claus and speak with the big guy. The number included was not correct and instead was the number for the Colorado Springs Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center. Colonel Harry Shoup was in charge that fateful night and asked his staff to pass on a message to the children. They were to tell the kids Santa’s “current location”. A tradition began with a simple misprint and one understanding Colonel. In 1958, there was a name change and CONAD became the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command.

Today, with the help of volunteer elves, NORAD responds to about 40 telephone calls per hour and about answers about 12,000 emails. There are more than 70,000 phone calls made from over 200 countries during a 25 hour period which lasts from 2 AM on December 24 and ends on December 25 at 3 AM MST. Google Analytics was first implemented in 2007 and they have helped analyze the traffic at the NORAD Tracks Santa website. This has helped to gather together the correct number of volunteer staffing, telephone lines, and computer equipment. The volunteers are both military and civilian. All Santa’s helpers ensure that kids around the world get a chance to keep an eye out for Santa.

Beginning in the 1950s and up to 1996, the NORAD Tracks Santa program used telephone hotlines, newspapers, radios, phonograph records, and television to keep interested children posted. Even now, many television weather reports on Christmas Eve include an update on Santa’s position. Beginning in 1997, Santa became tech savvy and had his own website. Both mobile media and social media help to pass along information on Santa’s trip around the world. Between 2004 and 2009, people wishing to do so could download Google Earth and track Santa using that application.

NORAD maintains the website year round but if you visit it between January and November 30, a message asks you to return on December 1. During December, NORAD’s site is filled with many features. And then, on Christmas Eve, NORAD lets you watch Santa fly his sleigh full of presents around the globe. Videos are generally updated each hour, as Santa enters a new time zone’s midnight hour. There are images of Santa flying over famous landmarks in that zone often with celebrity voice overs. In 2013, there were 19.58 million unique visitors on Christmas Eve and 1,200 volunteers answered 117,371 calls. There were 146,307 Twitter followers and 1.45 million “likes” from Facebook.

Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we’ll be seeing six or seven. – W. C. Fields

“In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child,” says good old Santa Claus; and if he had his way the children would all be beautiful, for all would be happy. – L. Frank Baum

Believe in love. Believe in magic. Hell, believe in Santa Clause. Believe in others. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. If you don’t, who will? – Jon Bon Jovi

Santa is very jolly because he knows where all the bad girls live. – Dennis Miller

Also on this day: The South Shall Rise Again – In 1865, six men began the KKK, then a simple social club.
Christmas – In 1777, James Cook discovered an uninhabited island in the Pacific.
Shhhhhh! – In 1818, Silent Night was written.
Eggnog Riot – In 1826, a riot broke out at West Point.
Italian Hall Disaster – In 1913, the hall caught fire during a Christmas party.

Italian Hall Disaster

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 24, 2014
Italian Hall Disaster burial procession

Italian Hall Disaster victims burial procession

December 24, 1913: The Italian Hall Disaster takes place in Calumet, Michigan. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company (C&H) was the biggest copper mining company in the Keeweenaw Peninsula of northwest Michigan. The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was established in 1908 but it wasn’t until 1913 that had a large enough membership to effectively strike. About 9,000 of the 15,000 miners were members of WFM when they demanded union recognition from management and asked for a meeting to discuss conditions. They were denied and went on strike on July 23, 1913. The strike did not end until April 1914.

On Christmas Eve, the Ladies Auxiliary of the WFM held a party for many of the striking miners and their families. The party was on the second floor of the Calumet Italian Hall. One reached the second floor by way of a steep stairway. There was a poorly marked fire escape on one side of the building which could only be reached by climbing through a window to get to the ladders leading to the ground below. There were about 400 people attending the party when someone yelled “Fire”. There was immediate panic as people headed for the one stairway. In all, 73 people were killed, 59 of them children, as they tried to escape the building. It was not on fire.

There were several investigations of the disaster. At the coroner’s inquest, witnesses who did not speak English were questioned and had to answer only in English and there were no interpreters available. Most witnesses were not asked any follow-up questions. Many of the people who were called in had not seen what had happened. After three days, the coroner issued a ruled that did not give a cause of death. In early 1914, the US House of Representatives came and took sworn testimony from witnesses. They used a full day and 20 witnesses testified under oath and had interpreters available. Eight witnesses swore the man who yelled fire was unknown but had been wearing a Citizens’ Alliance (an anti-union organization) button on his coat.

There have been many stories told about the doors opening inward and trapping the people attempting to flee. At the time, in both the December 1913 inquest and the 1914 subcommittee hearing, no mention of the doors opening inward was made. Blueprints of the building showed the location and configurations of the doors, the staircase, and the landings. There may have been two sets of doors with the inner doors being bifold doors and the outer doors opening outward. There has never been a certain identity of the man who yelled “fire” but it is nearly certain there was no fire at all. The fire department records list the event as being “no fire”. The building was torn down in 1984 leaving only an archway. There is a state historical marker in what is now a park area.

All the dark, malevolent Passions of the Soul are roused and exerted; its mild and amiable affections are suppressed; and with them, virtuous Principles are laid prostrate. – Charles Inglis

The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it. – Albert Einstein

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent. – Mahatma Gandhi

All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy. – Scott Alexander

Also on this day: The South Shall Rise Again – In 1865 six men began the KKK, then a simple social club.
Christmas – In 1777, James Cook discovered an uninhabited island in the Pacific.
Shhhhhh! – In 1818, Silent Night was written.
Eggnog Riot – In 1826, a riot broke out at West Point.


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.

Eggnog Riot

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 24, 2012
Drunken mayhem of the Eggnog Riot

Drunken mayhem of the Eggnog Riot

December 24, 1826: The Eggnog Riot (aka Grog Mutiny) breaks out at United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Earlier versions of eggnog contained more than just rum. George Washington drank the beverage with sherry, brandy, whisky, and rum added. Many dairy farms in New England were happy to supply milk, cream, and eggnog to the public which gave the beverage a wider audience. By 1826, West Point was under the command of Sylvanus Thayer with 36 men on staff. Alcohol was prohibited on campus as was drunkenness and intoxication, both of which could lead to expulsion. Tobacco use and gambling were also punished, but only with demerits. The 260 cadets there caused faculty to be concerned with the amount of drinking among the student body.

On December 22, it was arranged for a half-gallon of whisky to be brought over to the school. The security guard, Private James Dougan, allowed Cadets William Burnley, Alexander Center, and Samuel Roberts to smuggle in the booze by boat. The three cadets managed to smuggle two gallons of whisky over to West Point’s North Barracks. Cadet T. Lewis also managed to get another gallon of whisky into the North Barracks. The plan was to hold a Christmas Eve party with eggnog as the beverage of choice.

Theyer himself held a Christmas party on December 23 for the staff. Both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were in attendance. There was wine at the faculty party. Some different cadets met at a tavern in the town and discussed daily life at the Academy, but they were gone before the Academy quartermaster arrived. Back in the North Barracks, party plans were being discussed. The cadets were sneaking food from the mess hall to include with their eggnog party.

On December 24, nine cadets in the North Barracks began their scheduled eggnog/Christmas party around ten PM. More cadets began to arrive. As more showed up, the illegal party got louder. This brought the men to the attention of those in command and they were told to be quiet and get to sleep at 2 AM on Christmas morning. By 4 AM there was enough noise that faculty administration got involved. Captain Hitchcock tried to break up the party and a small riot erupted. By the time reveille was played at 6:05 AM it was in competition with the gun fire, breaking glass, shouted profanities, and cries of pain. Things soon calmed down but by the next day, it was thought that between 50 and 90 cadets had participated in the debacle. An inquiry began in January 1827. Seventeen cadets were expelled and two more men had their rank reduced.

A man’s true character comes out when he’s drunk. – Charlie Chaplin

You’re not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on. – Dean Martin

Bacchus, n.: A convenient deity invented by the ancients as an excuse for getting drunk. – Ambrose Bierce

The worst thing about some men is that when they are not drunk they are sober. – William Butler Yeats

Also on this day:

The South Shall Rise Again – In 1865 six men began the KKK, then a simple social club.
Christmas – In 1777, James Cook discovered an uninhabited island in the Pacific.
Shhhhhh! – In 1818, Silent Night was written.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 24, 2011

Franz X. Gruber

December 24, 1818: German poet and priest Joseph Mohr brings a poem to Austrian composer Franz X. Gruber. Together they produced a Christmas carol which is still sung today nearly 200 years later. The song was first performed on Christmas Day 1818 at Nicola-Kirche (Church of St. Nicholas) which also seems fitting. The church was demolished in 1900 due to flood damage and urban change. Mohr had written his poem two years earlier. He wanted a melody, something for guitar, to accompany his words.

A Society has grown up around this song weeding out apocryphal stories from verifiable truth. They would also like to spread the story of the creation of this perennial favorite. Some myths state that the church organ was broken and so a new song for guitar was created. That story was first told in 1909. There doesn’t seem to be any reason given for not playing a traditional song on a guitar, if that were the case. The myths are silent on that aspect.

The original manuscript is lost to us. In 1995, a manuscript in Mohr’s handwriting was found and dated from 1820. Mohr tells of his earlier poetry writing, being transferred to a rural church, and Gruber’s musical contribution. Gruber’s melody is influenced by Austrian folk music and even yodeling. We have no copy of Gruber’s original composition notes or finished song.

While the song was not an immediate Top Ten Hit, it never died away, again as rumor has it. Gruber published his song, it was not hidden away until the organ was repaired. Today it has been translated into over 300 languages and dialects. Worldwide popularity makes it a true Christmas carol. Perhaps it is the simplicity embodied in both lyrics and music, but the calming sense of peace surely comes to those who sing Silent Night.

“Silent night, Holy night

All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin Mother and Child
Holy infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace” – Joseph Mohr

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day; their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the word repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas,’ even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.” – Alfred Anderson

“Christmas carolers sing about peace on earth, but they don’t tell us where.” – unknown

Also on this day:

The South Shall Rise Again – In 1865 six men began the KKK, then a simple social club.
Christmas – In 1777, James Cook discovered an uninhabited island in the Pacific.

The South Shall Rise Again

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 24, 2010

Ku Klux Klan burning a cross

December 24, 1865: A group of six educated Confederate Army veterans form a private club in Pulaski, Tennessee – called the Ku Klux Klan. After the South fell ending the Civil War, the southern states were inundated with “help” from the North. The Reconstruction was a time of upheaval. The southern whites were disenfranchised. Their lands were overrun with Yankees. These men were displaced with their lands and belongings stolen and their women and children defiled. They were adrift.

The KKK was first formed as a social club. It was an outlet for soldiers to have a place to belong, once again. The carpetbaggers – Yankees who moved south carrying cheap luggage and forming a new way of life – and the scalawags – white Southerners who joined the Republicans responsible for the Reconstruction’s mismanagement – were both groups that needed to be shunned. The KKK lost its original goal of meeting for the enjoyment of practical jokes and instead began a reign of terror including lynching and cross burning.

In the spring of 1866, the KKK was parading in the street wrapped in sheets and wearing masks and the uneducated, freed slaves thought they were the ghosts of dead Confederate soldiers. With this misconception, many KKK members left the group, but others capitalized on the terrorizing effect. Within two years, the group was already in decline and was further hampered by President Grant’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. It eventually ceased to exist.

However, in 1915, after the film The Birth of a Nation hit the screens, a second incarnation of the Klan came into being. These men were rabidly anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-Communist racists. Their ranks swelled until in the 1920 about 15% of the eligible US population belonged to the KKK. Their behavior embraced egregious and wanton violent acts and their popularity declined. With the coming of WWII there was a further decline as the KKK supported the Nazis, not a popular sentiment to the millions of Americans with family members in the European theater. Sadly, the group continues to exist.

“It was just a matter of survival…of existing from one day to the next. I remember going to sleep as a girl and hearing the Ku Klux Klan ride at night and hearing a lynching and being afraid the house would burn down.” – Rosa Parks

“When you hear a man say, “I hate,” adding the name of some race, nation, religion, or social class, you are dealing with a belated mind.” – unknown

“Often times I have hated in self-defense; if I were stronger I would not have used such a weapon.” – Kahlil Gibran

“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” – Abraham J. Heschel

Also on this day, in 1777 Captain James Cook discovered Christmas Island.

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