Little Bits of History

Light Show

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2015
Mesa Redonda fire*

Mesa Redonda fire*

December 29, 2001: The Mesa Redonda fire takes place in Lima, Peru. Peru is located on the western coast of South America. It is the 19th largest country in the world when comparing the total acreage under the flag. Because of the mountainous terrain, the population is not evenly spread throughout the nation and it is only 41st in terms of population. Of the approximately 31 million people who call it home, almost 9 million live in Lima and almost 10 million live in the greater metropolitan area. While New York City has a similar number of people living there, the Big Apple is less than half the size of Lima which covers 1,032 square miles to New York’s 469 square miles.

Lima has been occupied since pre-Columbian times. It was previously known as Itchyma after the original peoples who settled there. The Inca Empire was in possession of the region prior to the Conquistadors  incursion and at that time, a famous oracle known as Limaq (which meant “talker” in the coastal Quechuan language) was built in the Rimac valley. When the Spaniards arrived, they destroyed the oracle and replaced it with their own church, but the name remained. The Spanish language doesn’t easily accommodate stop consonants in the last position of words and they pronounced it as Lima. When they settled there, they created their city on January 6, feast of the Epiphany in the Catholic Church. The feastday commemorates the arrival of the Three Kings and so they named their new city Ciudad de los Reyes or City of the Kings. But the official name was soon forgotten and the city was known as Lima.

Lima became the capital of Peru early on but gained in predominance after the Viceroyalty of Peru accepted the city as the capital of the Spanish holdings. Not only did he sanction Lima as the capital, but set up the Real Audiencia there which was an appellate court in Spain. The translation is literally Royal Audience and not only was the system the court, but the chancellery or office of official diplomatic residence. While the city has grown and flourished, it has not been without problems. The area has been struck by powerful earthquakes several times. These catastrophic events altered the history of the city, but could not take away her power and glory completely. Rebuilding took place, but other areas of South America such as Buenos Aires took over in economic importance.

On this day, a number of vendors at Mesa Redonda were selling fireworks to celebrate the arrival of the new year. The region is located in Central Lima and most of the narrow streets were lined with wooden or adobe houses. Officials realized the danger and Lima declared the shopping area an “emergency zone”. Around 7.30 PM, a spark from a fireworks demonstration landed on a stockpile of fireworks for sale. These exploded and a chain reaction quickly ensued. A “wall of fire” quickly grew and spread and it took several hours to bring it under control. A total of 291 people were killed in the fire with another 134 non-fatal injuries.

I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work. – Neil Armstrong

You may be a redneck if… your lifetime goal is to own a fireworks stand. – Jeff Foxworthy

Opposites generally create intense chemistry. There are more chances of fireworks when different people are together than similar personalities. – Sonam Kapoor

I love to go get fireworks, even though some of them are illegal. – Carmen Electra

Also on this day: The Awakened One – In 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha was consecrated.
Worst in America – In 1876, the Ashtabula Bridge collapsed.
Ooh-La-La – In 1721, Lady Pompadour was born.
Saintly Departure – In 1170, Thomas Becket was assassinated.
Itty Bitty – In 1959, Richard Feynman gave a speech at Caltech.

* “Incendio-Mesa-Redonda-Daniel-Silva-ganador-courret-2002” by Daniel Silva – Mesa Redonda, Daniel Silva, ganador del 2002. Licensed under GFDL via Commons –

Itty Bitty

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2014
Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman

December 29, 1959: Richard Feynman gives a speech at Caltech. The speech was entitled There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. It was Feynman’s idea to manipulate individual atoms and molecules. It would take a set of precise tools to build and operate the next set of smaller precise tools and so on until the smallest tools were available. Scaling issues would arise and gravity would be less important as a weak force acting on such a small item. Instead, surface tension and van der Waals attraction would become more important at that size. The latter force is the attractive or repulsive forces between molecules other than those due to covalent bonds or the electrostatic interaction of ions.

Feynman was born in 1918 in New York City. He wrote his doctoral thesis, The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics, in 1942. He worked as a professor in physics and eventually came to the California Institute of Technology. He presented his speech there at the American Physical Society’s meeting. At the meeting, Feynman issued two challenges. As he ended his talk, he also offered two $1000 prizes to the first person or persons to solve each of the two problems. The first was to built a tiny motor which was done in November 1960. The second was to create letters so small that the entire Encyclopædia Britannica could be printed on a pin. It would take a reduction in size to 1/25,000 to achieve that goal. In 1985, a Stanford grad student wrote the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities at that size and collected the prize.

The speech was credited with being the inspiration behind the field of nanotechnology. Although newer research tends to limit his influence, nanotechnology is a thriving science. The term itself was first used by Norio Taniguchi in 1974. The science includes many applications of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular state. The National nanotechnology Initiative defines the science as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers. This definition realized the importance of quantum mechanical effects.

Feynman won the Nobel Prize in quantum electrodynamics which made accurate predictions possible. In order to work with this type of science, he developed Feynman diagrams, a bookkeeping method allowing help with conceptualization and calculating interactions between particles in spacetime along with their antimatter counterparts. Feynman helped to discover the cause of the Challenger disaster and found the problem to be the O-rings resiliency at low temps. He contracted two rare forms of cancer and died on February 15, 1988 at the age of 69.

I’d hate to die twice. It’s so boring. (last words)

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.

If I could explain it to the average person, I wouldn’t have been worth the Nobel Prize. – all from Richard P. Feynman

Also on this day: The Awakened One – In 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha was consecrated.
Worst in America – In 1876, the Ashtabula Bridge collapsed.
Ooh-La-La – In 1721, Lady Pompadour was born.
Saintly Departure – In 1170, Thomas Becket was assassinated.

Worst in America

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2013
Ashtabula Bridge disaster

Ashtabula Bridge disaster

December 29, 1876: A bridge over the Ashtabula River collapses. The bridge was 11 years old and was the first Howe-type wrought iron truss bridge built. The bridge was designed jointly by Charles Collins and Amassa Stone. There is some speculation today stating Collins was reluctant to use the design as it was “too experimental” but caved in to pressure from the railroad.

A blizzard struck northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania dropping lake effect snow over the area. The heavy, wet snow fell all day, blanketing the region. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Train No. 5, The Pacific Express, left Erie, Pennsylvania heading west. They were 2.5 hours late in departure and had four pusher locomotives added to help plow through the ever deepening snow. The train left Erie at 3 PM and at 7:24, while approaching Ashtabula, Ohio’s railway station, passed a heavy freight train heading east. This train had made it over the fated bridge.

About 100 yards past the station, the train approached the bridge at 7:27 PM. Engineer Daniel McGuire was in the lead locomotive, “Socrates.” He felt the train shift after hearing a loud crack. The trailing engine, “Columbia,” seemed to sink. Another crack sounded and the south truss fell away. The center of the bridge sunk as Socrates passed and McGuire opened the throttle, trying to gain purchase on the western side.

The entire bridge buckled as Socrates passed onto the west abutment. The shifting tracks derailed both engines. The coupling broke free and Socrates made land. Columbia and 11 cars tumbled to the Ashtabula River 70 feet below with later cars crushing passenger cars already at the bottom. Many of those lucky enough to survive the crash then found themselves trapped by fires that spread through the wreckage, started by the stoves used for heat. There were 159 passengers and crew on the train: 64 were injured and 92 were killed either immediately or died later of injuries (48 of the victims were unrecognizable or totally consumed by the flames).

“The haggard dawn which drove the darkness out of this valley and shadow of death seldom saw a ghastlier sight than was revealed with the coming of this morning.”

“On each side of the ravine frowned the dark and bare arches from which the treacherous timbers had fallen, while at their base the great heaps of ruins covered the hundred men, women and children who had so suddenly been called to their death.”

“The three charred bodies lay where they had been placed in the hurry and confusion of the night.”

“Piles of iron lay on the thick ice or bedded in the shallow water of the stream. The fires smoldered in great heaps, where many of the hapless victims had been all consumed, men went about in wild excitement seeking some traces of loved ones among the wounded or dead.” – all from the Cincinnati Gazette describing the fire

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The crash was loud enough to be heard in town and many locals ran to offer assistance. By the time they arrived, some of the wounded passengers had made it to shore but out in the water, fires were blazing. The objective was to rescue those outside the burning cars and no effort was made to rescue anyone trapped inside. Not all things work out well and many of the wounded or dead were robbed by the “helpful” citizens. An investigation into the disaster began the following day and lasted for over two months. The investigation led to findings of faulty design and construction. It also found that had the bridge been adequately inspected in the eleven years the bridge was in use, the inadequacies would have been noted. The materials used were not found to be at fault, but simply the design. Collins was found dead and ruled a suicide shortly afterwards, but new examinations in 2001 indicated he was murdered. Stone committed suicide seven years after the disaster due to other financial troubles.

Also on this day: The Awakened One – In 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha was consecrated.
Ooh-La-La – In 1721, Lady Pompadour was born.
Saintly Departure – In 1170, Thomas Becket was assassinated.

Saintly Departure

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2012
Thomas Becket resting in peace

Thomas Becket resting in peace

December 29, 1170: Thomas Becket is assassinated. He is also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London, and Thomas à Becket. He was born around 1118 or possibly 1120 in Cheapside, London. He was born on December 21, the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle. His father, Gilbert, was a small landowner or maybe a petty knight. Both parents were of Norman ancestry. The family lived off the rents generated from their land holdings and Gilbert served as sheriff of the city at some point. Thomas was able to spend time at estates in Sussex at the home of a wealthy family friend.

Thomas began his formal education at Merton Priory at age ten. He also attended grammar school in London. He did not study beyond the trivium and quadrivium at these schools (the seven general subjects of a well-rounded education of the time). At age 20, he spent time in Paris. Around this time, his father suffered some financial difficulties and Thomas was compelled to earn his living as a clerk. Eventually he came to work for Theobald of Bec, then the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was entrusted with several missions including being sent to Rome and to Bologna and Auxerre where he finally was able to study canon law.

In 1154 Thomas was named as Archdeacon of Canterbury. This important position led him to the attention of King Henry II and Theobald recommended Thomas for the position of Lord Chancellor for the King who appointed him in January 1155. In that capacity, Thomas enforced the collection of rents for the king, both from secular and religious landowners. Thomas was made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Henry was hopeful that the new Archbishop would continue to put country before God, but Thomas instead made a shift to the ascetic life. Thomas was not ordained as a priest until a couple weeks after he was confirmed as Archbishop.

As Thomas continued to put the church before the King, the King became less enchanted with him. Henry continued to try to weaken the church and finally Thomas was officially asked to submit authority to the King or face repercussions. He refused. Thomas was summoned to appear before the King on a charge of contempt and when Thomas was convicted, he left the trial and fled to the continent. Six years later, Thomas was permitted to return to England and did so. Upon his return, he began to excommunicate his opponents. Henry found out about this and said something that was believed to have been an order of execution. Thomas was pursued, asked to come before the king, and when he refused, he was killed.

Remember the sufferings of Christ, the storms that were weathered… the crown that came from those sufferings which gave new radiance to the faith.

All saints give testimony to the truth that without real effort, no one ever wins the crown.

Many are needed to plant and water what has been planted now that the faith has spread so far and there are so many people.

No matter who plants or waters, God gives no harvest unless what is planted is the faith of Peter and unless he agrees to his teachings. – all from Thomas Becket

Also on this day:

The Awakened One – In 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha was consecrated.
Worst in America – In 1876, the Ashtabula Bridge collapsed.
Ooh-La-La – In 1721, Lady Pompadour was born.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2011

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson

December 29, 1721: Jeanne Antoinette Poisson is born in Paris, France. Called Reinette by her friends, she was the child of François Poisson and his wife Madeleine de La Motte. However, it is believed that Poisson was not actually her father. It is thought either Pâris de Montmartel or Le Normant de Tournehem took that honor. It is known that the latter became Reinette’s legal guardian when her purported father was forced to flee the country in 1725 due to accrued bad debts, a crime punishable by death. He was cleared of the crime and able to return to France eight years after his departure.

Reinette was beautiful, intelligent, well-educated, and a talented musician, dancer, and artist. She could recite entire plays and was given a wide-ranging education, much of it paid for by de Tournehem. In 1741, when she was 19, she was married to Charles-Guillaume Le Normant d’Étiolles, Tournehem’s nephew. Reinette and her new husband had two children, a son who died in infancy and a daughter born in 1744. Reinette founded her own salon and was joined by many of the philosophers of the time, including Voltaire.

As her fame grew, she came to the attention of the royal court and the King. Through the auspices of others, including her father-in-law, she gained an acquaintance with Louis XV. At the time of the introduction, he was mourning the loss of his second official mistress. Toward the end of February, Reinette was invited to a masked ball hosted by the King and by March, she had become his mistress. She was given rooms at Versailles in an apartment directly below the King’s. On May 7, the official separation from her husband was announced.

To be welcome at court, she needed a title and so the King purchased one for her. On June 24 she became the marquisate of Pompadour and was the given the estate, title, and coat of arms. Madame Pompadour wielded considerable power at court and was able to retain her place in the King’s heart and if not his bedchamber. She had two miscarriages, one in 1746 and another in 1749. She stopped sleeping with the King in 1750 but she remained his mistress until her death of tuberculosis  in 1764 at the age of 42.

“A lover always thinks of his mistress first and himself second; with a husband it runs the other way.” – Honore de Balzac

“A mistress never is nor can be a friend. While you agree, you are lovers; and when it is over, anything but friends.” – Lord Byron

“A mistress should be like a little country retreat near the town, not to dwell in constantly, but only for a night and away.” – William Wycherley

“If ever a man and his wife, or a man and his mistress, who pass nights as well as days together, absolutely lay aside all good breeding, their intimacy will soon degenerate into a coarse familiarity, infallibly productive of contempt or disgust.” – Lord Chesterfield

Also on this day:

The Awakened One – In 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha was consecrated.
Worst in America – In 1876, the Ashtabula Bridge collapsed.

The Awakened One

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 29, 2010

Tian Tan Buddha

December 29, 1993: The Tian Tan Buddha – tallest outdoor, seated, bronze statue of Buddha, is consecrated. In 624 BC, Siddhartha Gautama was born a prince into the Shakya family. At age 29, he left his family’s palace and retreated to the forest to meditate. He spent six years seeking truth and enlightenment, often accompanied by self-deprivation and sacrifice. Sitting under the Bodhi Tree he attained enlightenment and became Buddha. He is sometimes called the 28th Buddha.

The term buddha means “to know” or “to become aware.” Anyone who reaches this state without outside teaching is Buddha. After his awakening, Buddha taught others the way to awareness, the Dharma. Buddha is not a God and Buddhism is a non-theistic belief system. With help any can, and indeed it is said that all will, eventually reach awakening.

There are many artistic depictions of Buddha. The statues can be seated, standing, or reclining. There is an obese and laughing Buddha as well as an emaciated ascetic depiction. Statues are made with a protuberance on the head to signify his great mental acuity and with long ear lobes to symbolize his perception. The position of the hands adds meaning and often also lets the viewer know where the statue was created.

Buddha is carved into the Lingyun Mountain in China, the largest stone Buddha. That statue is 233 feet high. The tallest copper, standing Buddha resides in Jiangsu, China and is 289 eef] tall. The Tian Tan Buddha, in Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong is built of 202 pieces of bronze over an infrastructure of steel for strength. The sitting Buddha, built atop a hill, is 115 feet tall. One climbs 268 steps to reach the 250 ton statue. The lotus on which the Buddha sits is a three tiered platform with eight bronze statues that represent the immortals circling Buddha. The cost of building this beautiful icon was $68 million.

“There is Buddha for those who don’t know what he is, really. There is no Buddha for those who know what he is, really.” – Zen proverb

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.” – Buddha

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha

“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” – Buddha

Also on this day, in 1876 the Ashtabula Bridge disaster took place.