Little Bits of History

February 27

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2017

1964: Italy requests help to save an iconic landmark. The Torre di Pisa, or as we call it, the Tower of Pisa, has been leaning since before it was even fully constructed. The freestanding bell tower is part of the cathedral built in the Italian city and known worldwide for its distinctive tilt. It is the third oldest structure in Pisa’s Cathedral Square with only the Cathedral itself and the Pisa Baptistry older. Groundbreaking took place in 1173 but there was inadequate foundation for the structure. The ground on one side was too soft to support the weight of the tower.

It took 199 years to built the tower. Work began during a period of military success and therefore, local prosperity. When the work on the second floor began, the tower began its slow and inexorable tilt. The structure,  which eventually rose 184 feet into the sky, was built on just a ten foot deep foundation set into unstable subsoil. After the tilt began, construction was halted for nearly a century partly because the area was involved in several battles/wars and partly because new idea were needed to stop the tilt. If the building had been continued uninterrupted, the tower would have toppled for sure. The settling of the subsoil gave it some chance to remain standing.

When building began again, the idea to stop the lean was to build the rest of the floors with one side taller than the other. The tower itself is therefore, bent. Construction work continued apace until once again, war intervened. The seventh floor was completed in 1319 and the bell chamber was finally added in 1372. There are seven bells in the tower, one for each major tone and the last was installed in 1655. Since its completion, many attempts have been made to keep the tower from complete collapse. On this day, the government requested the help from the world to preserve the landmark, but to keep its distinctive tilt.

A multinational task force was formed to work on the problem. Engineers, mathematicians, and historians gathered together to preserve all aspects of the UNESCO Historical tower. The softer ground on one side remained a considerable problem and many solutions were proposed. It was decided to add 800 tons of lead counterweight to the raised end of the base. The bells were also removed to help lessen the weight. A third measure, removing 1,342 cubic feet of soil from underneath the raised end, was done after cables were placed at the third level and anchored to hold the tower in place. The tower was successfully straightened by 17.7 inches and returned to the 1838 position. In 2008, it was announced the stabilization was so successful for the first time in history, the tower has stopped moving.

I’ve been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s a tower, and it’s leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich. – Danny DeVito

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

Be as a tower firmly set; Shakes not its top for any blast that blows. – Dante Alighieri

The whole imposing edifice of modern medicine is like the celebrated tower of Pisa – slightly off balance. – Prince Charles

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Making a Run For It

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2015
Abraham Lincoln  at Cooper Union in New York City

Abraham Lincoln at Cooper Union in New York City

February 27, 1860: Abraham Lincoln speaks at Cooper Union in New York City. The Illinois lawyer has already served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834-1842 and as a member of the US House of Representatives from Illinois’ 7th District from 1847-1849. During the 1830s, Lincoln was a Whig Party leader and it was as a Whig that he went to Congress. He promoted a rapid modernization of the economy through banks, tariffs, and railroads. His opposition to the Mexican-American War was unpopular and he did not run for a second term. He left politics and returned to his law practice in Springfield. He helped to build up the new Republican party in 1854. He lost his bid for a US Senate seat when he was unable to beat Democrat Stephen A Douglas in that race.

As he made his bid for President of the United States, he held his ground on the non-expansion of slavery. He was not yet the Republican nominee since the convention was not held until May. The speech he gave on this day is considered by some to be one of his most important speeches and they argue it may have been responsible for his gaining the nomination. The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art was established in 1859 at Cooper Square in the East Village of Manhattan. The founder of the school believed education should be accessible to all who qualify regardless of their race, religion, sex, or wealth/social status. In that regard, it was the perfect venue for Lincoln’s speech.

It is one of Lincoln’s longest speeches and runs to more than 7,000 words. (The Gettysburg address is 268 words.) There are not many quotes remembered from this speech but because it was so carefully researched and crafted, and because of the forceful argument Lincoln put forth, it was very effective. The write up in the New York Tribune stated it was “one of the most happiest and most convincing political arguments ever made in this City … No man ever made such an impression on his first appeal to a New-York audience.”

The speech was broken into three basic parts with each building to the conclusion. In the first part, Lincoln spoke of the Founding Fathers and the legal positions they supported on the question of slavery in the territories. This was a special response and clarification to Stephen Douglas’s position from the lost Senate seat race. The second part addressed voters in the Southern states and clarified issued between Republicans and Democrats and argued the Republican Party’s position was the conservative one. The last section addressed Republicans. He advised fellow Republicans to use level-headed thinking and cool actions rather than passionate outbursts. The speech worked.

If any man at this day sincerely believes that a proper division of local from federal authority, or any part of the Constitution, forbids the Federal Government to control as to slavery in the federal territories, he is right to say so, and to enforce his position by all truthful evidence and fair argument which he can. But he has no right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it, into the false belief that “our fathers who framed the Government under which we live” were of the same opinion – thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument.

Human action can be modified to some extent, but human nature cannot be changed. There is a judgment and a feeling against slavery in this nation, which cast at least a million and a half of votes.

An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave is not “distinctly and expressly affirmed” in it.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it. – Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union speech

Also on this day: Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
Andersonville – In 1864, the Confederacy’s POW camp at Andersonville opened.
The Lord and the Luddites – In 1812, George Gordon Byron spoke out in the House of Lords.
Suffrage – In 1922, Leser V. Garnett was decided by the US Supreme Court.
Carbon Fourteen – In 1940, the carbon isotope was discovered.

Carbon Fourteen

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2014
Sam Ruben working on the discovery of Carbon-14

Sam Ruben working on the discovery of Carbon-14

February 27, 1940: Scientists at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley discover Carbon-14. The radioactive isotope of Carbon, also written 14C or radiocarbon contains 6 protons and 8 neutrons within the nucleus. It was first suggested to exist by Franz Kurie in 1934 and Martin Kamen and Sam Rubin located it on this date. There are three naturally occurring isotopes of carbon. Carbon-12 makes up 99% of the element, carbon-13 makes up about 1%, and trace amounts of carbon-14 exist. About one part per trillion of carbon in the atmosphere is carbon-14 or 0.0000000001%. It has a half life of 5,730±40 years. It decays into nitrogen-14 through beta decay.

Because of the rarity and the fairly constant decay rate, the substance forms the basis for radiocarbon or simply carbon dating. Willard Libby found the technique for estimating the age of organic materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years Before Present (BP) with Present defined at 1950 AD. When a plant or animal is alive, it carries on gas exchange with the local atmosphere. Once it dies, this no longer takes place and the carbon contained will start to decay with a fairly steady rate. In this manner, by comparing the known saturation of carbon-14 in the air and then comparing it to the carbon in the material, one can calculate how long it has been since the plant or animal was alive and breathing.

Martin Kamen was born in 1913 in Toronto to Russian immigrant parents and grew up in Chicago. After earning his PhD in physical chemistry, he took a research position under Ernest Lawrence in Berkeley where he worked without pay for six months until he was actually hired. In 1943, Kamen began working on the Manhattan Project but soon returned to Berkeley. He was fired in 1945 after being accused of leaking nuclear secrets to Russia. He finally was able to be hired to run the cyclotron program at the medical school of Washington University at St. Louis. He later was able to obtain two other teaching positions, one in Massachusetts and the other at San Diego. He retired in 1978 and died at the age of 89 of natural causes.

Sam Ruben’s childhood neighbor was Jack Dempsey and the young boy developed an interest in boxing and later played basketball in high school. The family lived in Berkeley and he took his degree there, earning his PhD in physical chemistry in 1938. He was hired immediately as an instructor. His work was based on discovering the workings of photosynthesis and with this, he and Kamen ended up discovering carbon-14. Because there was so little of the substance to be found, the work was tedious but the two scientists persevered. When Kemon left to work on the Manhattan Project, Ruben continued study of phosgene, a poisonous gas. Ruben was working in the lab when he was exposed to the gas and died the next day, September 28, 1943. He was 29-years-old.

You will die but the carbon will not; its career does not end with you. It will return to the soil, and there a plant may take it up again in time, sending it once more on a cycle of plant and animal life. – Jacob Bronowski

Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge. – Carl Sagan

Your theory is crazy, but it’s not crazy enough to be true. – Niels Bohr

Also on this day: Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
Andersonville – In 1864, the Confederacy’s POW camp at Andersonville opened.
The Lord and the Luddites – In 1812, George Gordon Byron spoke out in the House of Lords.
Suffrage – In 1922, Leser V. Garnett was decided by the US Supreme Court.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2013


February 27, 1864: The first Northern POWs arrive at the Confederate run prison camp outside Andersonville, Georgia. At the beginning of the Civil War, captured men were held until both sides could arrange an exchange. The two sides would trade prisoners and the newly freed men could then return to their respective front lines. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men killed a group of black Union soldiers instead of holding them for an exchange. Ulysses S. Grant unilaterally voided the exchange policy.

Confederate POWs were detained without parole until the South guaranteed that all soldiers, regardless of race, would be treated the same. This promise was not forthcoming from either CSA President Jefferson Davis or General Robert E. Lee. The South began constructing its own prisons instead. A site in central Georgia was selected because it was deemed to be far enough away from raiding Union troops.

The original prison construction began in January 1864 and contained 16.5 acres of land within a 12-foot stockade. It was to house 10,000 prisoners. The prison was of a rectangular design with a creek running through the center. Area slaves were impressed to build the original stockade. No barracks were constructed. By June, the prison population had climbed to 20,000 and more space was needed. One hundred, thirty prisoners were forced to work for 14 days to enclose an additional 10 acres. By August, more than 33,000 Union soldiers were held on the 26.5 acres.

Andersonville prison had a total of 49,485 prisoners come through the gates during the 14 months it was in operation. Of those, 13,700 men died of malnutrition, exposure, or disease. Nearly one-third of the prisoners died of dysentery. The South was chronically short of supplies by this time in the war, but the treatment of the prisoners was cruel and inhumane regardless of the issue of supply shortages. The Commanding Officer, Henry Wirz, was arrested in May 1865 and sent to Washington, DC where he stood trial for war crimes. He was found guilty and hanged, the only man to be so convicted from the War.

“A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him.” – Winston Churchill

“To my mind, to kill in war is not a whit better than to commit ordinary murder.” – Albert Einstein

“I’ll tell you what war is about: you’ve got to kill people, and when you’ve killed enough, they stop fighting.” – General Curtis LeMay

“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” – Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

After the war ended, many of the survivors of this death camp were returning home on the Sultana when disaster struck again. A very sad ending to a horrible story. – the editor

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: This was not the only horrible POW camp in the US during the Civil War. There was also Camp Douglas located in Chicago. It was a place of deprivation and hardship as well. Scurvy was rampant with about 13% of inmates ill during October 1864. The next month, water was shut off while repairs were being made and prisoners risked being shot to gather snow for drinking purposes. The next month, remnants of General Hood’s troops arrived and were forced to stand naked in the ice and snow while they were robbed of any and all valuable. Records show that 2,235 prisoners died while at the camp, but there are some who say this is 967 short of the actual figure. Others put the death toll at over 6,000. Most died of disease or starvation while others succumbed to the bitter cold of a Chicago winter.

Also on this day: Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
The Lord and the Luddites – In1812, George Gordon Byron spoke out in the House of Lords.
Suffrage – In 1922, Leser V. Garnett was decided by the US Supreme Court.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2012

Women picket outside the White House

February 27, 1922: Leser v. Garnett is decided by the US Supreme Court. Universal suffrage has been a sought after ideal since democracies began to reappear. Athens, in 508 BC, became the first well-known democracy. This form of government is based on the premise that power comes from the people who are free to express their wishes via a free electoral system. In ancient Athens free men could vote or have their say. Women and slaves were excluded from the process.

Democracies were replaced by monarchies or oligarchies until the Middle Ages when some forms of representative government once again emerged. Voting rights and permissions have been slowly increasing. Property owners (males only) were first given a role in their own rule. Slowly, the amount of property a man needed to posses was lowered. The next step was for all free men to be given the vote. In the US, the end of the Civil War brought freedom to slaves. Race remained a stumbling block on the way to the voting booth.

The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870, less than a year after it was proposed. Now all men, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” could vote. Women, regardless of race, were still not granted this basic right. The women campaigned for equality of voting privilege and finally – 50 years later – the 19th Amendment was ratified. On August 18, 1920 the right to vote was no longer predicated on the citizen’s sex. The last state to ratify the Amendment was Mississippi which finally did so on March 22, 1984.

On October 12, 1920 Cecelia Streett Waters and Mary D. Randolph registered to vote in the state of Maryland. The state Constitution limited voting rights to men only. Oscar Leser and others filed suit against the state board of registry demanding the women’s names be stricken. The case listed three reasons for the invalid nature of the 19th Amendment. The US Supreme Court heard the case January 23-24, 1922 with Chief Justice William H. Taft presiding. Louis Brandeis wrote the unanimous opinion of the court. The 19th Amendment was indeed valid and women could vote. Case closed.

In democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes. – Mogens Jallberg

The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting. – Charles Bukowski

If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates. – Jay Leno

I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we’ve been voting for boobs long enough. – Claire Sargent

Also on this day:

Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
Andersonville – In 1864, the Confederacy’s POW camp at Andersonville opened.
The Lord and the Luddites – In1812, George Gordon Byron spoke out in the House of Lords.

The Lord and the Luddites

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2011

Portrait of Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips

February 27, 1812: George Gordon Byron first speaks before the House of Lords. He became the sixth Baron Byron and was referred to as Lord Byron. He was also a poet and adventurer. He was a leading figure in the Romanticism movement and is still regarded as one of the greatest British poets. He led a life of excess and amassed huge debts as well as a titillating past. Lady Caroline Lamb said he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”

Lord Byron first took his seat in the House of Lords on March 13, 1809. He left London for the continent on June 11, 1809. He was back in Parliament to speak out in defense of Luddites who had destroyed weaving frames in Nottinghamshire. With new automation and the use of these new textile machines, men were being put out of work. When they reacted violently, they were given a death sentence. Lord Byron came to their defense. He later said of his speech that it was sarcastic and spoke to the “benefits” of automation – producing inferior materials and putting people out of work.

These men had been professional weavers, but the Industrial Revolution was taking their livelihood away. Ned Ludd, their leader, gave his name to the social movement. The economy was already struggling due to the Napoleonic Wars. As mechanized looms were put into place, they were staffed by unskilled and cheaper labor leaving the skilled workers out of jobs and nothing else available. The movement grew so heated that the Luddites even faced off against the British Army. However, the Luddites were not the first to destroy unwanted machinery. This had a tradition going back to 1700s.

There may not be an actual person named Ned Ludd [or Ned Lud or even Ned Ludlam or Edward Ludlam]. However, he became a folklore hero called “Captain Ludd” or sometimes given the title of King or General. The leader of the group was said to have come from the village of Anstey outside Leicester, England. Folk tales talk about a young man whipped for idleness or perhaps taunted and bullied who broke two knitting frames in a “fit of passion.” Some say his father, a framework-knitter, asked his son to “square his needles” whereupon young Ned smashed them with a hammer. By 1812, when anyone took to smashing textile equipment, it was said he was a Luddite, in honor of Ned Ludd.

As the liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!”

“ 2
When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
We will fling the winding sheet
O’er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has poured.”

Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
Yet this is the dew
Which the tree shall renew
Of  Liberty, planted by Ludd!” – Lord Byron’s poem, Song for the Luddites

“They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy, and
He turned to his workmates and said: Death to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on our dreams.” – Robert Calvert in “Ned Ludd”

Also on this day:
Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
Andersonville – In 1864, the prisoner of war camp was opened for business.


Party in New Orleans!

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2010

Mardi Gras

February 27, 1827: Mardi Gras is celebrated for the first time in New Orleans, Louisiana  with masked balls. Amazingly enough, the first public celebrations of Mardi Gras were somewhat violent and the celebration gained a negative reputation. During the 1840s and 50s, things were so bad, the press began calling for banning the event. In 1857 six men in New Orleans formed the Comus organization. They advocated for a safe and non-violent celebration such as they had been putting on for a New Year’s Eve parade in Mobile, Alabama since 1831. They prevailed and the celebrations continued, interrupted by the US Civil War.

Long ago in ancient Rome there was a circus-like celebration in mid-February called Lapercalia. The Catholic Church incorporated this feast into their own calendar and changed it’s name and meaning. Carnival [Italian for “without meat’] is a celebratory period lasting from January 6 [the feast of the Epiphany] until the beginning of Lent.

Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent or 40 days before Easter. King’s Cakes, treats of the season, are colored with the traditional Mardi Gras colors – purple for justice; green for faith; and gold for power. During the late 1700s while New Orleans was under French rule, there were masked balls and festivals. When the area came under Spanish rule, these were banned.

Then, in 1803 New Orleans finally fell under the jurisdiction of the US flag. It took until 1823 for the prohibition against masked balls to be lifted. In 1827 they were once again legalized. In 1837, they had their first parade in the tradition still practiced today. In 1870 the Twelfth Night Revelers joined the festivities and the next year golden beads hidden in cakes were presented to a young woman who became the first queen of Mardi Gras. By 1882, the Krewe of Proteus joined the parade and in 1890 the first marching club joined the parade. The fun continued to grow as the revelers descended on New Orleans. So … show us your … ummm … beads.

“[N]o party is any fun unless seasoned with folly.” – Desiderius Erasmus

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!”” – Robin Williams

“I am thankful for the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.” – Nancie J. Carmody

“Drink, and dance and laugh and lie,
Love the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)” – Dorothy

Also on this day, in 1864, Andersonville prison opened.

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