Little Bits of History

From Fun to Horror

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 26, 2015
Richmond Theatre fire

Richmond Theatre fire

December 26, 1811: The Richmond Theatre fire takes place. The theater was located on Broad Street between what is now Twelfth and College Streets in Richmond, Virginia. Prior to the theater being built there, it was the first Academy of Fine Arts and Sciences in America. After it became a theater, the area was known as “The Theatre Square” as coined by Chevalier Quesnay de Beaurepaire who was a French officer who served in the American Revolutionary War. The first theater was a barn-like building and opened on October 10, 1786 with a performance of School for Scandal.  The building was also used for three weeks in 1788  by the Virginia Ratifying Convention.

On this date, a benefit performance was held for Alexander Placide and his daughter. The night’s entertainment was a double bill with the first performance being a play entitled The Father, or Family Feuds. Following that, a pantomime was scheduled which was called Raymond and Agness, or The Bleeding Nun. The benefit had originally been scheduled for December 23 but there was need to postpone it after Mrs. Poe (Edgar Allen Poe’s mother and an earlier benefactor of the theater) tragic death earlier in the month as well as Placide’s own illness, and inclement weather. Because of the holidays, this was the last scheduled performance of the year and the theater was packed. There were 598 people in attendance, 80 of them children.

The play went well and the pantomime began immediately afterward. This was the performance the children were more interested in. The first act went well and as the curtain fell, a chandelier was hoisted toward the ceiling with the flame still lit. The light became entangled in the cords used to lift it and the chandelier came into contact with part of the scenery used towards the front of the production. The boy who was operating the cords noticed the flames and immediately fled the building. There were a series of 35 hanging scene pieces and the flame spread, jumping from one to the next. There were other hanging pieces which also were set alight by the quickly spreading fire.

The curtain hid the flames from the audience but soon it was apparent the theater was on fire. There were several exits but they weren’t well known. A side exit was used by the players and orchestra, but few knew of it and there was a balcony exit that was a clear way out. But in the panic of spreading fire, many were pushed or fell as they attempted to exit and this blocked the pathway to safety. Some jumped from windows to escape but others congregated there too frightened to leap to safety. There were a total of 72 deaths, mostly women. Virginia’s governor, George William Smith was among the dead as was the former senator, Abraham B. Venable. The theater was rebuilt at a different location in 1819 because the exact location was used to build the Monumental Church as a commemoration to the victims.

I believe in the theater; I believe in it as the first glamorizer of thought. It restores dramatic dynamics and their relations to life size. – Laurence Olivier

All of the arts, poetry, music, ritual, the visible arts, the theater, must singly and together create the most comprehensive art of all, a humanized society, and its masterpiece, free man. – Bernard Berenson

Theater is, of course, a reflection of life. Maybe we have to improve life before we can hope to improve theater. – William Ralph Inge

Promises are like crying babies in a theater, they should be carried out at once. – Norman Vincent Peale

Also on this day: Kwanzaa – In 1966, the first Kwanzaa was celebrated.
Searching – In 1986, Search for Tomorrow went off the air after more than 35 years.
Zounds! Sounds! – In 1933, a patent was granted for FM radio.
Storming Scandinavia – In 2011, Cyclone Dagmar made landfall.
Thespis – In 1871, Thispis opened at the Gaiety Theatre of London.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 26, 2014


December 26, 1871: Thespis premieres at the Gaiety Theatre in London. Also called The Gods Grown Old, it was an operatic extravaganza as well as the first time WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan worked together. No score was ever published and most of the music has been lost. The theater was used to host many different types of works created in the burlesque style. Thespis was a moderate success as a Christmas entertainment and ran until March 8, 1872 after 63 performances. It was advertised as “An entirely original Grotesque Opera in Two Acts”.

The work referenced ancient Greek gods when Thespis, the father of drama, traded places with the gods on Mount Olympus. The gods had grown old and were ignored and when they returned to Earth, they were unimpressed with the way life on earth had turned out. The now inept leaders were disgusted with their lot and returned to Mount Olympus and sent Thespis and his group of actors back down to Earth. There are three pieces of music which remain today. Little maid of Arcadee was one of four numbers to receive an encore on this date. The song enjoyed popularity even after the demise of the play.

The play was under rehearsed and many critics noted it was in serious need of shortening. Carriages were to be called for at 11 PM but the play was still running at midnight. It did not receive good reviews for these and other reasons. All was not lost. There were nine such entertainments offered that year as holiday entertainment and of those nine, five closed before Thespis did. Gaiety usually ran seasonal performances for only a few weeks and this was offered for months – an extraordinary run for the venue. The opera was altered after the first performance, something Gilbert and Sullivan would do for many of their offerings in the coming years. By the third night of the run, a critic reported that not a single hitch in the performance remained.

Gilbert and Sullivan were one of the most famous Victorian era theatrical partnerships. Librettist Gilbert teamed up with composer Sullivan on fourteen comic operas between this date and 1896. HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado were their most famous. After Thespis, the two did not work together again for four years but each worked separately and became famous in his own right in the interim. Their next work together seemed to have been designed by fate. Gilbert had written a short libretto on order but the woman who was to play the lead died in childbirth and the project was abandoned. Then Richard D’Oyly Carte needed a short piece to fill a bill and since Gilbert already had the libretto, it was decided to ask Sullivan to write the score. Thus, Trial by Jury was ready in just weeks.

Soon after the production of Pygmalion and Galatea I wrote the first of many libretti, in collaboration with Mr Arthur Sullivan. This was called Thespis; or, the Gods Grown Old. It was put together in less than three weeks, and was produced at the Gaiety theatre after a week’s rehearsal.  – WS Gilbert

Until Gilbert took the matter in hand choruses were dummy concerns, and were practically nothing more than a part of the stage setting. It was in Thespis that Gilbert began to carry out his expressed determination to get the chorus to play its proper part in the performance. – Arthur Sullivan

It is terribly severe on Mr. W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, the joint authors of Thespis, that their work was produced in such a crude and unsatisfactory state. Thespis on its own merits—merits of literary worth, merits of fun, merits of song writing deserves to succeed; but the management has crippled a good play by insufficiency of rehearsals and a want of that requisite polish and aplomb without which these merry operas are useless. – The Illustrated Times review

I must say that not a single hitch in the performance is now to be perceived, and that the applause and evident delight of the audience from beginning to end, the piece occupying a space of time within two hours. – London Figaro review of the third performance

Also on this day: Kwanzaa – in 1966 the first Kwanzaa was celebrated.
Searching – In 1986, Search for Tomorrow went off the air after more than 35 years.
Zounds! Sounds! – In 1933, a patent was granted for FM radio.
Storming Scandinavia – In 2011, Cyclone Dagmar made landfall.


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.

Storming Scandinavia

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 26, 2012
Cyclone Dagmar map

Cyclone Dagmar map

December 26, 2011: Cyclone Dagmar makes landfall. The storm was also called Cyclone Patrick by the Free University of Berlin, which is the semi-official source for all of the European Union. However, in Norway, it was called Dagmar and in Finland, it was called Tapani. Whatever its name, it formed rapidly when cold air moved south from Greenland and Arctic Norway and met with warm air moving north from the Azores and Iberia. The northward movement was facilitated by a swiftly moving jet stream. Moving almost due east, the storm came ashore in Norway on this day with wind gusts reaching up to 145 mph. The storm was listed as the third worst in Norway in the last fifty years.

Strong winds preceded actual landfall and a storm surge of 20 to 30 inches was also noted. Some of this rise in water level was due to a preceding storm, Cato (Oliver). As the front moved in and the whirling winds came over land, they dropped a significant amount of rain. Due to both the winds and the rain, a January 1, 2012 landslide in Trondheim was also attributed to this storm. No one was killed in the landslide, but fifty people were evacuated. The pier area of Trondheim suffered much damage as well. As hurricanes or cyclones often do, an F2 tornado was spawned and that was reported in Hellesylt, Norway.

Also damaged in the storm were 390 Telenor communication masts. This left 40,000 customers without cell phone or landline telephone connectivity. A tanker was disabled and set adrift northwest of Bergen. Luckily, the crew was able to restore power and they were able to ride out the storm without further incident. The Royal Dutch Shell’s Ormen Lange gas processing plant was not so lucky. It lost power and was unable to supply gas until power was restored. This did not only affect Norway, but the company supplies 20% of the UK’s gas.

After making landfall, the storm began to lose power. However, before it could completely dissipate, it also wreaked havoc in Sweden by dropping many trees which took down power lines. Some train traffic was completely stopped. The storm reached Finland and was their worst storm in ten years. Electricity was lost for thousands of customers. Trees not only took out power lines, but there was a report of an elderly man being killed by a falling tree. Estonia also lost power and had to rescue over 600 people as a result of the storm. In Russia, the St. Petersburg Dam gates were closed to protect the city. That action left 15 ships unable to enter the port. One of Russia’s nuclear plants needed to shut down a generator after dirty water was sucked into the works. Over $45 million (US dollars) damage was done overall.

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain. – Vivian Greene

He turned to look just in time to see the rain start falling out as if the storm had finally decided to weep with shame for what it had done to them. – James Dashner

It takes a real storm in the average person’s life to make him realize how much worrying he has done over the squalls. – Bruce Barton

If you are strong enough, you can enjoy even in the middle of a storm! – Mehmet Murat ildan

Also on this day:

Kwanzaa – In 1966 the first Kwanzaa was celebrated.
Searching – In 1986, Search for Tomorrow went off the air after more than 35 years.
Zounds! Sounds! – In 1933, a patent was granted for FM radio.

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Zounds! Sounds!

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 26, 2011

Edwin Armstrong

December 26, 1933: Edwin Armstrong is granted US patent number 1,941,066 for FM radio. Armstrong was born in 1890 in Chelsea, New York and was educated at Columbia University. His early patents included a regenerative circuit which he filed in 1914 while still a junior in college. He went on to collect a total of 42 patents. His first one however, was the subject of a 12 year legal battle with Armstrong, RCA, and Westinghouse on one side and Lee De Forest and AT&T on the other.

While defending and eventually losing his patent lawsuit, he continued to work on frequency modulation radio in the basement lab at Columbia’s Philosophy Hall. FM radio created a much clearer sound without the static associated with AM radios of the time. Armstrong submitted his patent on July 30, 1930 and was finally granted that patent for a “Radio signaling system” three-and-a-half years later.

Frequency modulations (FM) “conveys information over carrier waves by varying its frequency.” Armstrong presented a paper entitled  “A Method of Reducing Disturbances in Radio Signaling by a System of Frequency Modulation” to the Institute of Radio Engineers in New York City on November 6, 1935. The paper was published the next year. The whole concept is based on mathematical theory that is further enhanced by the Modulation Index making the whole completely incomprehensible to non-math majors.

To make FM radio successful, the signals are sent via the “FM band” and must be picked up and translated by an appropriate receiver. The first FM radio broadcasts in the US were finally achieved in 1946. Most of the world uses the broadcast band 87.5 to 108.0 MHz with Japan as an exception. Usually the broadcast band of today is an exact multiple of 100 kHz. We also have stereo FM radio and Dolby sound systems to further enhance our listening enjoyment.

“My father hated radio and could not wait for television to be invented so he could hate that too.” – Peter De Vries

“George is a radio announcer, and when he walks under a bridge… you can’t hear him talk.” – Stephen Wright

“People in America, when listening to radio, like to lean forward. People in Britain like to lean back.” – Alistair Cooke

“Cinema, radio, television, magazines are a school of inattention: people look without seeing, listen in without hearing.” – Robert Bresson

Also on this day:

Kwanzaa – in 1966 the first Kwanzaa was celebrated.
Searching – In 1986, Search for Tomorrow went off the air after more than 35 years.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 26, 2010

Happy Kwanzaa

December 26, 1966: The first Kwanzaa celebration begins, lasting for seven days until January 1. Graduate student, Ron Karenga, was dismayed by the race riots in Watts the previous year and sought a way to unite Americans of African descent. He established this holiday season to reconnect African-Americans with their African past.

Karenga was leader of the United Slaves Organization, a group which had seven children in its membership. He used the Swahili term, “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits” and added an extra “a” to the word in order to get to seven letters. He felt the need for that number of letters so that each child in the US Organization would have a letter, and then there would be a letter for each day of the week-long celebration.

The “Seven Principles of Blackness” include: Umoga [Unity]. Kujichagulia [Self Determination], Ujima [Collective Works and Responsibility], Ujamaa [Cooperative Economics], Nia [Purpose], Kuumba [Creativity], and Imani [Faith]. These words are Swahili, an East African nation. Most of the Americans of African descent are from the West Coast of Africa. Each day of the season is dedicated to celebrating one of the concepts.

Karenga has never claimed that the holiday is an authentic African season, but rather that it is a construct of his own built to offer the community another venue for celebration of the African experience and it is based on African values. In 1967, Karenga stated, “Jesus was psychotic” and proclaimed that Christmas was the white man’s holiday. Thirty years later, in a book he authored about Kwanzaa he notes a shifted position saying that Kwanzaa was not meant to replace the religious holyday, but rather it was created to give the African-American experience a voice all its own.

“…it was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” – Ron Karenga

“Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to people’s religion or faith but a common ground of African culture…Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and self-conscious option, opportunity and chance to make a proactive choice, a self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one.” – Ron Karenga

“We have religious holidays and we have secular holidays. I see Kwanzaa as an opportunity for African-Americans to reaffirm ourselves if we choose to, a chance to rebuild and renew our focus. I see Kwanzaa as a holiday of the spirit.” – Jessica Harris

“Kwanzaa is neither political nor religious and, despite some misconceptions, it is not a substitute for Christmas.” – Randy Taylor

Also on this day, in 1986 Search for Tomorrow went off the air after the day’s show.

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