Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2015
Nativity scene

Nativity scene

December 25, 354: The earliest record of Christmas is included in the Chronography of 354. Also called the Calendar of 354, it was an illuminated manuscript made for Valentinus, a Roman Christian. The original no longer exists, but at least fragments survived through Carolingian times. At that point, many copies of the calendar were created, some with and others without the illustrations. There were sixteen sections to the entire codex which include Part 6 which was the actual calendar for the year. Also included were images of the emperors, images of the seven planets, the signs of the zodiac, lists of important Roman politicians, and in Part 12, commemoration dates for martyrs. Included in this section was the Latin phrase, “VIII kal. Ian. natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae” which translates to “Eighth day before the kalends of January (which would be December 25), Birth of Christ in Bethlehem Judea”.

The early Christian ecclesiastical calendar usurped many pre-Christian festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia and the birthday of Mithra for the Zoroastrian calendar were both considered in the creation of the feastday known as Christmas. The Roman celebration of the birth of Jesus was celebrated in December, closer to the older celebration of Saturnalia. However, the Eastern Orthodoxy chose to celebrate the event in connection with the Epiphany on January 6. This is the date on which Christians commemorate the arrival of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men and their gifts to honor the newly born King. The method of celebration of Christmas has morphed over time and some Christians have even gone so far as to ban it citing concerns with paganism and no Biblical authentication.

Before Christ was born and even into the early Christian era, there have been celebrations revolving around the winter solstice. These festivals were often the most popular of any held through the year. There may be a few reasons for this. First of all, people were free to celebrate as the work in the fields was greatly reduced because of the seasonal nature of agriculture. Another reason for the popularity of the celebrations was the simple fact that the weather was bound to begin improving, at least in regards to the amount of daylight available. In a time before electric lighting, the gloom of winter was not easily cast aside and even a few more minutes of daylight was appreciated. Parties included a Yule log and special foods.

The reason for making December 25 be Christmas is debatable, but some theories exist. Perhaps the date was chosen to Christianize the Roman pagan festival of the “birthday of the Unconquered Sun” which was begun by Roman Emperor Aurelian and supported by Constantine. A Syrian bishop from the 12th century believed the date was simply an overwriting of the already Pagan celebration for the birthday of the Sun which early Christians also participated in. Rather than try to get rid of a good party date, early Church authorities simply changed the meaning of the festival. This has been hotly repudiated by other Christians over the centuries. However the date was decided, Merry Christmas to all.

It was the Yuletide, that men call Christmas, though they know in their hearts it is older than Bethlehem and Babylon, older than Memphis and Mankind. – H. P. Lovecraft

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. – Garrison Keillor

There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries. – W. J. Cameron

From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it. – Katharine Whitehorn

Also on this day: Mastodons – In 1801, the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.
It Is Finished – In 1991, the dissolution of the USSR was completed.
Arrival – In 1941, Admiral Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor.
White House Visitors – In 1974, Marshall Fields invited himself to the White House.

White House Visitors

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2014
Robert Preston visiting the White House

Robert Preston visiting the White House

December 25, 1974: Marshall Fields visits the White House. Earlier in the year, Private Robert Preston, a US Army helicopter mechanic, stole a helicopter from Fort Meade, Maryland and touched down on the South Lawn. He had flown over the Executive Mansion, hovered for about six minutes, and then took off again. He was chased by two Maryland State Police helicopters and forced down. He was slightly injured in the process. He was eventually sentenced to a year in prison and fined $2,400 after plea bargaining. Richard Nixon was President at the time and was not at the White House. He was in Florida and his wife was in Indiana.

On this day, Fields crashed his Chevrolet Impala into the Northwest Gate and made his way on to White House property. He was dressed as an Arab and claimed he was the Messiah and had explosives with him. He drove up to the North Portico and placed himself just feet away from the front door. The US Secret Service agents went into negotiations with Fields and it took four hours to end the standoff. When Fields finally surrendered, it was found that the “explosives” he was carrying were only flares. President Gerald Ford was not at the White House during the encounter.

When the White House was first built, there were no fences and the public was given greater access to the White House grounds. This remained true up until World War II. After the war, access became increasingly restricted and after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the airspace also became more restricted and better enforced. At the time of this incident, there was a wrought iron fence in place. Since it proved inadequate, a new gate was erected in 1976. Police built barricades on the streets surrounding the White House in 1983 and during the mid-1990s the fence was expanded by one block to move traffic even farther away.

There have been several attempts by unwanted visitors to enter the Executive Mansion. Michael Winter made the first such attempt on April 13, 1912. There were three attempts in 1974 with Samuel Byck making an unsuccessful assassination attempt. Gerald Gainous tried twice in 1975 and there were three more attempts to enter in 1976. There were twelve more attempts before the year 2000. There were seven attempts between 2001 and 2009. Joseph Reel tried in 2013 and was sent to prison for three years after his arrest. There have been five people trying to get inside the White House in 2014 with the last being Dominic Adensanya’s October 22 second try. He was attacked by dogs and stopped. The Secret Service were able to stop a toddler who squeezed through the fence in August and no charges were filed.

The secret service is a strange group. They don’t really have a leader. It’s not set up like a military. Each one is supposed to be able to act like a leader when something comes up.     – Val Kilmer

Bush said today he is being stalked. He said wherever he goes, people are following him. Finally, someone told him, ‘Psst. That’s the secret service.’ – Jay Leno

The Secret Service has announced it is doubling its protection for John Kerry You can understand why – with two positions on every issue, he has twice as many people mad at him. – Jay Leno

There is no such thing as perfect security, only varying levels of insecurity. – Salman Rushdie

Also on this day: Mastodons – In 1801 the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.
It Is Finished – In 1991, the dissolution of the USSR was completed.
Arrival – In 1941, Admiral Nimitz arrived at Pearl Harbor.

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 25, 2012
Admiral Nimitz arriving in Hawaii

Admiral Nimitz arriving in Hawaii

December 25, 1941: Admiral Chester W. Nimitz arrives at Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, inflicting great damage on the Pacific Fleet. At the time, there were eight battleships in the harbor. Four of them were sunk, three were damaged, and one was grounded. Two other ships were sunk, nine more were damaged. There were 188 aircraft destroyed and another 159 damaged. Husband Kimmel and Walter Short watched in horror as 2,402 were killed and 1,247 wounded. There were 57 civilians killed and 35 more wounded. The Japanese lost 5 submarines and 29 aircraft. There were 64 Japanese killed and one captured.

On December 17, Nimitz was selected as Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, effective December 31. He was flown out to Hawaii to relieve Adm. Kimmel of command. He was carried across the ocean aboard a PB2Y-2 Coronado, a four-engine plane which was a larger version of the PBY Catalina. The plane left San Diego in the early evening of December 24. It took 17.2 hours to fly from California to Hawaii. As the plane approached Pearl Harbor, Nimitz was invited by the pilot to the flight deck. They flew circles around the harbor, giving the admiral a chance to truly see the damage inflicted. Nimitz took command standing on the deck of the submarine USS Grayling. Normally this would have been done on the deck of a battleship, but all of them had been either sunk or damaged in the attack.

On March 24, 1942, a newly formed US-British Combined Chiefs of Staff decided that the Pacific Ocean would be America’s strategic responsibility. By the end of the month, the US had divided the Pacific into three separate theaters – the Pacific Ocean Areas (POA), the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA under the command of General Douglas MacArthur), and the South East Pacific Area. Nimitz was given the job of Commander in Chief over all areas with operational control over all Allied forces – air, land, and sea.

His first order of business after taking command was to build the fleet back to some form of operational strength. He successfully organized the restoration of ships, planes, and supplies and was able to mount an effective defense, and then an offense against the Japanese forces. He took the fight to the Japanese and defeated the navy forces at the Battle of the Coral Sea. He went on to the Battle of Midway, and pushed forward to the Solomon Islands Campaign. On December 14, 1944, Congress approved a new rank of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy, the highest grade in the navy. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt bestowed the rank on Chester Nimitz.

He [Nimitz] took the time to shake the hand of every member of the crew and thank them for a comfortable flight and apologized to each for having taken them from their families on Christmas Day! What a giant of a man. What a great leader to take over the Pacific Fleet! – Captain Frank DeLorenzo

Those dirty bastards! Somehow, someway, we are going to make them pay! – Chester W. Nimitz, as the plane circled the harbor upon his arrive to Hawaii

God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless. – Chester W. Nimitz

That is not to say that we can relax our readiness to defend ourselves. Our armament must be adequate to the needs, but our faith is not primarily in these machines of defense but in ourselves. – Chester W. Nimitz

Also on this day:

Mastodons – In 1801 the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.
It Is Finished – In 1991, the dissolution of the USSR was completed.

It Is Finished

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2011

Mikhail Gorbachev

December 25, 1991: The dissolution of the USSR is complete. Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary on March 11, 1985. The Soviet economy was stagnant and his primary goal during his time in power was to revive it. His first step was to try to reorganize the economy. But when he attempted to do that, he noticed it would be impossible without also upgrading the political and social structure. He began his reformation process on April 23 with changes in personnel. His sweeping changes were given the name of glasnost or perestroika.

The dissolution began with Gorbachev taking office and took over six years to establish fifteen separate Post-Soviet states from what was once the USSR. Direct elections were introduced and the ban on political parties was lifted. Even so, in March of 1991, a large majority of citizens voted to retain the Union. On December 22, 1991 the presidents of the Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus met secretly and agreed to dissolve the Soviet Union. All this took place after much dissention including an attempted military coup in August of 1991.

The fifteen states established is alphabetical order are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. The largest and predominant area is Russia, which is by far the largest region of the former Union. Kazakhstan is the next largest in area. Armenia is the smallest new state, comprised of 11,484 square miles or slightly smaller than the state of Maryland. In comparison, Russia covers 6,592,800 square miles or almost twice the area of the US or China. It is the largest country in the world.

During the early hours of December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned from office and handed all powers over to Boris Yeltsin, who had received 57% of the votes on June 12, 1991. Later that night, the Soviet Union flag was lowered from the Kremlin for the last time. The next day, the Council of Republics formally recognized the dissolution of the USSR, done by and to itself. By the end of the year, the few Soviet institutions which had not given control to Russia previously were under its auspices or had ceased to function. Individual republics took over self government. A poll taken in 2006 indicated that 66% of Russians regretted the collapse of the USSR, while in 2005, half of those in the Ukraine also lamented the passing of the Union.

“I am a Communist, a convinced Communist! For some that may be a fantasy. But to me it is my main goal.”

“I believe, as Lenin said, that this revolutionary chaos may yet crystallize into new forms of life.”

“If not me, who? And if not now, when?”

“If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.” – all from Mikhail Gorbachev

Also on this day:

Mastodons – In 1801 the first complete mastodon skeleton was discovered.
Scone Stone – In 1950, the Stone of Scone was stolen.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 25, 2010

Mastodon skeleton

December 25, 1801: The first complete skeleton of a mastodon found in the US is placed on display at the Philadelphia Museum, located next door to Independence Hall in the old US capital. Charles Willson Peale, a true Renaissance Man, was the owner of the museum as well as the man who supervised the excavation of the skeleton found in the Hudson River Valley. He placed the newly mounted bones in the “Mammoth Room” in his museum and it was an instant success.

Peale was also an artist and loyal American. He painted portraits of John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and of course, George Washington. In fact, using sketches from seven different sittings, Peale painted around 60 portraits of the Father of our Country. Peale married for the first time at the age of 21 and he and his wife had ten children before she died. He married again the next year, and he and his second wife had another six children.

Besides portraiture and procreation, Peale was also interested natural sciences. He opened his museum with his paintings and with specimens from the natural world. He was also involved with carpentry, dentistry, optometry, shoemaking, taxidermy, and authored several books. His museum was renamed Peale Museum and moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Maryland where it still stands.

Mastodons resembled but were distinct from the wooly mammoth. They first lived in the North American region about 4 million years ago and became extinct about 10,000 years ago. Ice age man hunted the mastodon and may have contributed to its demise. The beast resembled a furry elephant with both tusks and a trunk. The animal was about 8-10 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed in at about 4-6 tons. There is some evidence that tuberculosis was also a causative factor in its extinction.

“An ideal museum show would be a mating of Brideshead Revisited with House & Garden provoking intense and pleasurable nostalgia for a past that none of its audience has had.” – Robert Hughes

“I never can pass by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York without thinking of it not as a gallery of living portraits but as a cemetery of tax-deductible wealth.” – Lewis H. Lapham

“I seldom go into a natural history museum without feeling as if I were attending a funeral.” – John Burroughs

“We don’t just want the blue-haired old ladies as members of the museum. We want new, young people, younger than me, in their 20s, to pay attention to history.” – Jim Robinson

Also on this day, in 1950 the Stone of Scone was stolen.

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