Little Bits of History

March 20

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2017

1852: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is published in two volumes. Harriet Beecher was born in 1811, the seventh of thirteen children. Her father was a Calvinist preacher; her mother died when she was five. Harriet was enrolled in her sister’s school, Hartford Female Seminary, and given a traditional education usually reserved for boys. When she was 21, she moved to Cincinnati where she helped her father, president of Lane Theological Seminary. She also joined a literary club. Cincinnati was a boom town on the Ohio River where many immigrants as well as free blacks competed for jobs on the canals and railroads. Riots broke out on at least three occasions as factions fought for scarce jobs.

Harriet met Calvin Stowe at the literary club but he was also a professor at the seminary. The two married. Both were abolitionists and they supported the Underground Railroad, even temporarily housing runaway slaves in their home. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, making it illegal to help runaways find their way to freedom. By that time, the Stowes were living in Maine and it was there Harriet had a dream about a dying slave and it inspired her to write this story. During this time, she also lost her toddler son, which increased her empathy. She wrote to the editor at National Era and her tale began serialization there on June 5, 1851. Weekly installments ran until April 1, 1852 and Harriet was paid $400 for her story.

John P Jewett made an initial print run of 5,000 copies of Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly with each of the two volumes containing three drawings and the title page done by Hammatt Billings. In less than a year, 300,000 copies of the book had sold, an astounding number of books back then. The main goal of the book was to educate northerners about the horrible treatment of slaves in the South. A secondary goal was to increase empathy for those still enslaved in the South. Stowe wrote a total of 30 books, including a sequel to her most famous work. She also had travel memoirs and collections of articles and letters published.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin relates the tale of a benevolent slave holder forced by economic reasons into selling two of his slaves, Uncle Tom and the maid, Eliza’s, son. Eliza and her son escape, but Tom is sold. Eliza is hunted; Tom is horribly mistreated by Simon Legree. Tom’s faith in God and his stubborn refusal to be broken by his new owner enrage Legree to the point of ordering him to be killed. Eliza’s family tries to rescue him, but is too late. Eliza’s family survives and escapes to Liberia and George Shelby, the man who sold his slaves at the beginning of the tale, repents his ways and frees all his remaining slaves.

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.

Friendships are discovered rather than made.

It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.

To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization. – all from Harriet Beecher Stowe


Sarin Attack

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2015
Shoko Asahara

Shoko Asahara

March 20, 1995: Tokyo, Japan suffers an act of domestic terrorism. Aum Shinrikyo (now called Aleph) was a controversial group founded by Shoko Asahara. He published a book and declared himself Christ, Japan’s only fully enlightened master and identified himself with the Lamb of God. The book outlined an apocalyptic scenario which included World War III. Asahara’s mission was to take upon himself the sins of the world. His followers would have their sins removed. Conspiracies, according to him, were everywhere and perpetrated by Jews, Freemasons, the Dutch, the British Royal family, and of course, rival Japanese religions. On this day, they committed a sarin attack on a Tokyo subway which killed 12 people and severely injured 50 more. About 1,000 other subway riders suffered temporary vision disturbances.

This was not Aum Shinrikyo’s first sarin attack. That occurred on June 27, 1994 in Matsumoto, Japan. The cult converted a refrigerator truck and released a cloud of sarin to float near the homes of judges who were working on a real estate lawsuit which was predicted to go against the cult. In this attack, 500 people were injured and seven died. On this day, ten men carried out sarin attacks with five of them setting off the sarin and five working as getaway drivers. They attacked the Chiyoda line’s A725K train, the Marunouchi line’s A777 and B801 trains, and the Hibiya line’s B711T and A720s trains.

Ikuo Hayashi released the sarin in the Chiyoda train. Prior to joining Aum, he was a senior medical doctor at the Ministry of Science and Technology. He was a heart and artery specialist first at Keio Hospital and left to head the Circulatory Medicine department at the National Sanatorium Hospital. In 1990, he quit his job and left his family to join Aum in the monastic order Sangha. He became a favorite of Asahara and was appointed the group’s Minister of Healing which included administering sodium pentothal and electric shocks to members who failed to display the proper loyalty. These “treatment” resulted in several deaths.

Ken’ichi Hirose released sarin in one of the Marunouchi trains. He held a postgraduate degree in physics from Waseda University. He was an important member in the cult’s Chemical Brigade. He exposed himself to the sarin by mistake and although he had the antidote, he nearly died from the exposure. Toru Toyoda had studied applied physics at the University of Tokyo and he belonged to the Chemical brigade. His sarin release was in the other Marunouchi train. Masato Yokoyam, also an applied physics student, released sarin in a Hibiya train and Yasuo Hayashi was in the other Hibiya train. Hayashi was a student of artificial intelligence before joining the cult. The trials of 189 cult members resulted in 13 of them sentenced to death and five more sentenced to life in prison. Asahara remains alive although he was sentenced to death. He is now aged 59 and the father of twelve children.

Fanaticism is the child of false zeal and of superstition, the father of intolerance and of persecution. – John Fletcher

A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. – Carl Sagan

In morals, what begins in fear usually ends in wickedness; in religion, what begins in fear usually ends in fanaticism. Fear, either as a principle or a motive, is the beginning of all evil. – Anna Brownell Jameson

The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism. – Arthur Miller

Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Martha Place – In 1899, Martha was the first woman to be executed via the electric chair.
Iditarod Winner – In  1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.
Pusha da Button! – In 1933, Giuseppe Zangara was executed.

Pusha da Button!

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2014
Giuseppe Zangara

Giuseppe Zangara

March 20, 1933: Giuseppe Zangara dies in the electric chair. Zangara was born in 1900 in Ferruzzano, Calabria, Kingdom of Italy. He served in the Tyrolean Alps during World War I. After the war he moved back to his village where he held several menial jobs. He immigrated to the US in 1923 meeting with his uncle who had already relocated. He became a naturalized citizen in 1929. He was, by occupation, a bricklayer. However, he complained of continuous abdominal pains after having an appendectomy in 1926. Adhesions are presumed to be the cause of the pain and in some fashion are also implicated into Zangara’s spiral into madness.

Zangara’s employment was sketchy and he moved from New Jersey to Florida and settled in Miami. On February 15, 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt gave on impromptu speech from the back of an open car near Bayfront Park. The mostly unemployed Zangara took the opportunity to make an assassination attempt against the President. He came to the park with a .32 caliber pistol he had gotten from a pawn shop. He had to stand on a metal folding chair to see over the crowds as he was only five feet tall. He took aim and shot. Nearby spectators grabbed at him but he was able to get four more shots off before he was subdued. He injured five people included Chicago mayor Anton Cermak who was standing next to Roosevelt.

Zangara immediately confessed to the shootings and stated, “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” He pled guilty and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Nineteen days later, on March 6, Cermak died from his wounds and the charge was increased to first-degree murder and the sentence was changed to the death sentence. Usually inmates sentenced to death were kept apart from other inmates but on this occasion, another prisoner was already awaiting his date with Old Sparky. The Death Cell became Death Row. On the way to electric chair, on this day, Zangara was once again verbose, “Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! […] Pusha da button!”

It is unclear as to whether or not Cermak was the real target. It is assumed that Roosevelt was the person Zangara was aiming for, but he was noted as an expert marksman in the Italian Army and he should have been able to hit his target. However, that classification was with a rifle and not the pistol he was using. There are reasons that Cermak could have been the intended target since Chicago was having difficulties with crime, especially from Frank Nitti – head of the Chicago Outfit (the city’s largest organized crime syndicate). It is also speculated that Cermak was the target because he was associated the Outfit’s rivals.

One kills a man, one is an assassin; one kills millions, one is a conqueror; one kills everybody, one is a god. – Jean Rostand

The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin. – Alexander Cockburn

It is true that I have not come on the Mayflower, but I came as fast as I could. – Anton Cermak

I’m glad it was me instead of you. – Anton Cermak’s alleged words to Franklin Roosevelt after he was shot.

Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Martha Place – In 1899, Martha was the first woman to be executed via the electric chair.
Iditarod Winner – In  1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.

Martha Place

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2013
Martha M. Place

Martha M. Place

March 20, 1899: Martha M. Place is the first woman to die in the electric chair. Martha suffered a head injury at the age of 23. Her brother claimed she suffered from residual effects for the rest of her life. Martha married William Place in 1893. He had a daughter, Ida, from a previous marriage. William was looking for a stepmother for his daughter who was 12 years old at the time of the marriage. It was rumored Martha was jealous of Ida. Police were called to the Brooklyn, New York house on at least one occasion and Martha was arrested for threatening Ida’s life.

On February 5, 1898, Martha attacked her husband with an axe as he arrived home from work. He fled to a neighbor’s and called police. Martha was found on the floor with the natural gas escaping into the room. She was in critical condition, but was revived. Seventeen-year-old Ida was found in her upstairs bedroom. Her eyes were disfigured by acid thrown in her face and her mouth was bleeding. She had been smothered.

Martha proclaimed her innocence before and during her trial. Her husband took the stand as a key witness against his wife. She was found guilty of murder after his testimony was given. Martha was sent to Sing Sing Prison to await her execution. The prison is located on the Hudson River in Ossining, New York about 30 miles north of New York City. The colorful phrase of being “sent up the river” comes from convicts in NYC being sent upriver to the state penitentiary.

The electric chair, called Old Sparky (at least at Sing Sing, but with other sobriquets in different prisons) debuted in the prison famous for its harsh treatment of society’s worst criminals. The electric chair was supposed to be a kinder, more humane method of execution than hanging, the preferred method in the 1880s. The first person executed was William Kemmler and it did not go as planned. The executioner had to devise a decorous way to place the electrodes on a woman. He succeeded and Martha died instantly. A total of 613 people were executed in the chair before 1963, when it was abolished.

“It’s obvious. Life doesn’t belong to us and what you have not given, you cannot take away.” – Sami Aldeeb

“Must we kill to prevent there being any wicked? This is to make both parties wicked instead of one.” – Blaise Pascal

“Unnatural death is wrong, no matter who does it.” – Antoinette Bosco, whose son and daughter-in-law were murdered

“The death penalty does not do for the victim’s family what they expect it will – it doesn’t give them back what they have lost, and someone else’s son has also been killed.” – Rev. Walter Everett

This article first appeared at in 2010. Editor’s update: The death penalty, or capital punishment, has been invoked for a number of crimes. It is a “capital” crime from the Latin for “head” – capitalis – because of the execution method of beheading. Murder, espionage and treason have been crimes which resulted in the criminal’s execution as have rape, adultery, incest, and sodomy. Court-martials have invoked the penalty for cowardice, desertion, insubordination, and mutiny. There have been many gruesome ways to carry out the punishment such as boiling to death, flaying, slow slicing, impalement, stoning, burning, and a number of other creative methods of tortuous death. Today, China, India, Indonesia, the US are the four most populous nations still using the death penalty.

Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Iditarod Winner – In  1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.

Blue, Lots of Blue

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2012

USS Langley (CV-1)

March 20, 1922: The USS Langley (CV-1) is commissioned by the US Navy. The ship was built by Mare Island Navel Shipyard. Construction began on October 18, 1911 and the USS Jupiter was launched on August 14, 1912 and commissioned on April 7, 1913. The ship was a collier or transport class. Her first official sea voyage was transporting US Marine Corps troops in 1914. She was 542.3 feet long and 65.3 feet at the beam. She was crewed by 163 officers and men. She proved valuable sailing the Atlantic bringing men and supplies to the European theater during World War I.

A refit was authorized on July 11, 1919. Jupiter sailed to Hampton Roads, Virginia. She arrived on December 12 and was decommissioned on March 24, 1920. At the Norfolk, Virginia navy yards an experiment was carried out. Upgrades were placed and the ship’s outline was altered. On April 11, 1920 her name was changed to USS Langley in honor of Samuel Pierpont Langley, an aeronautics pioneer. When commissioned on this date, Langley was the US Navy’s first aircraft carrier. The idea of floating airports was tested as early as 1910, just seven years after the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk.

Commander Kenneth Whiting was in charge of the craft, now crewed by 468 officers and men. On October 17, 1922 Lt. Virgil C. Griffin piloted the first plane launched from the Langley – also launching a new era in the US Navy. With the Langley underway on October 26, Lt. Cmdr. Godfrey de Courcelles Chevalier made the first landing. He was flying an Aeromarine 39B – a biplane / seaplane used for training. The next first came on November 18 when the first aviator (Cmdr. Whiting) was catapulted from the flight deck. On February 27, 1942, USS Langley was severely damaged in a Japanese attack. After rescuing survivors, her escorts sank the doomed ship.

Aircraft carriers play a major role in today’s Navy. There are two classes of carriers: Nimitz and Enterprise (Kitty Hawk was decommissioned in May 2009). Nimitz class aircraft carriers are the most modern. They use a nuclear powered propulsion system and cost about $4.5 billion each to build. These ships are 1,092 feet long, 134 feet at the beam, and have a flight deck measuring 254 feet in width. They are crewed by 3,200 with another 2,480 assigned to the Air Wing. They support 85 aircraft and hold varying armaments, depending on assignments.

In principal, having carrier capability is desirable and ditto for nuclear propulsion. An aircraft carrier is all about presence and adds to the navy’s capability. – Uday Bhaskar

A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace. – Theodore Roosevelt

No matter what happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping. – Frank Knox

My only great qualification for being put at the head of the Navy is that I am very much at sea. – Edward Carson

Also on this day:

Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Martha Place – In 1899, Martha was the first woman to be executed via the electric chair.
Iditarod Winner – In  1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.

Iditarod Winner

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2011

Libby Riddles

March 20, 1985: Libby Riddles wins the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She was the first woman to win the 1,130 mile long race. There are actually two routes used for the race. The northern route is run on even numbered years and the southern route is run on odd numbered years. Both follow the same trail for 444 miles from Anchorage to Ophir. They then head in opposites directions until merging again at Kaltag and following the same path for the last 441 miles to Nome. The exact miles, therefore, vary from year to year ranging from 1,112 to 1,131 miles depending on the exact route.

The race itself was first run in 1973 and begins on the first Saturday in March each year. There are typically teams of 16 dogs pulling the sled laden with supplies and the handler. The fastest time to date was accomplished in 2002 by Martin Buser who made the trip in 8 days, 22 hours, 47 minutes, and 2 seconds. The race commemorates the “Great Race of Mercy” from 1925 when Nome was iced in and in desperate need of Diphtheria antitoxin. There were no planes available, no train tracks to Nome, no roads, no way for a ship to arrive at the iced in port. Dogsleds delivered the serum with the last relay of the journey seeing Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog, Balto, pulling into town on February 2 at 3 AM, ahead of schedule.

The race now has 26 checkpoints on the northern route and 27 on the southern route. Mushers must sign in at all checkpoints. Supplies are purchased in Anchorage and then flown into various checkpoints as the mushers dictate. When they check in, they pick up waiting supplies. Some mushers rest themselves and their teams, other push onward. There are three mandatory rests along the Iditarod: one mandatory 24 hour layover to be taken at any checkpoint, one eight hour layover along the Yukon River, and one eight hour stop at White Mountain.

Libby Riddles was born April 1, 1956 in Madison, Wisconsin. She moved to Alaska when she was 17. Her first race was in 1978 where she won first place in the Clines Mini Mart Sprint race. She finished 18th and 20th in the 1980 and 1981 Iditarod races. At that point, she decided to breed her own dogs. After winning the race in 1985 using her own dogs, she decided to spend the next six years living as an Alaskan Native.

“To lead the Iditarod under a full moon without feeling rushed, or looking over my shoulder, it was a wonderful evening.” –  Jeff King, 4 time Iditarod winner

“This [dog sled racing] is something that’s in my blood that has been passed down.” – Darin Nelson, Iditarod musher

“I tell diabetic kids that if I can run a dog sled across the state of Alaska for 1,150 miles, then you can get off the couch and do anything a non-diabetic can do.” – Bruce Linton, two time contestant, also diabetic

“I eat beans and rice while my dogs eat steak and eggs.” – Martin Buser, four time Iditarod winner.

Also on this day:
Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Martha Place – In 1899, the electric chair was first used as a means of execution for a woman.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 20, 2010

English woman's shoe, circa 1670 (photo by Val McG)

March 20, 1885: Jan, also known as John, Matzeliger [1852-1889] patents a shoe lasting machine. Jan was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana to an African homemaker and a Dutch engineer. He moved to the US at the age of 18 and worked in a shoe factory in Philadelphia.

Shoe makers cobbled shoes in a time-intensive manner using a lasting pincher. This tool helped to get the leather upper attached to the sole of the shoe. It limited the output to a few pairs of shoes per day.

Matzeliger’s new machine automated the process of attaching the sole. The leather upper was placed tightly over the last [a form in the shape of a foot] and the under sole was arranged over it and pinned in place while the outer sole was attached. The process took approximately one minute.

The earliest shoes date from between 8000 and 7000 BC. They were found in Oregon in 1938. Most early shoes were made of tanned leather and didn’t usually last long enough for us to find them and it is assumed shoes have been worn for at least 26,000 years and probably closer to 40,000 years. During this time frame, the bones of the feet were thinning and so it assume shoes were being regularly worn. Early shoes were more like foot bags used to protect the feet.

By the Middle Ages, turn-shoes were developed. It was made of leather put together inside out. There were flaps that then allowed it to be turned after it was made. As wealth increased, the aesthetic looks to shoes also improved. Since the 17th century, shoes have been made with a sewn-on sole. For all the women worldwide who love to buy shoes, Matzeliger’s invention put them within our financial grasp.

“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.” – Carl G. Jung

“A Roman divorced from his wife, being highly blamed by his friends, who demanded, ‘Was she not chaste? Was she not fair? Was she not fruitful?’ holding out his shoe, asked them whether it was not new and well made. ‘Yet,’ added he, ‘none of you can tell where it pinches me.'” – Plutarch

“If the shoe fits, it’s too expensive.” – Adrienne Gusoff

“Shopping tip: You can get shoes for 85 cents at the bowling alley.” – unknown

Also on this day, in 1899 the Martha Place became the first women to be executed by electric chair.

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