Little Bits of History

SS Vestris

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2015
SS Vestris

SS Vestris listing

November 12, 1928: The SS Vestris sinks. The ship was built in 1912 by Workman, Clark & Co. in Belfast and was owned by Liverpool, Brazil and River Plate Steam Navigation Co. The passenger and cargo ship was 496 feet long with a beam width of 60.5 feet. She could carry 280 first class passengers with another 130 second class and 200 third class and 250 was a full complement of crewman. The ship sailed from New York to South America and ended at the River Plate, as designated in Britain and as La Olata River or Rio de la Plata which is where the Uruguay and Parana Rivers join and empty into the Atlantic Ocean. It is the border between Argentina and Uruguay with major ports at Buenos Aires and Montevideo.

Vestris left New York headed for the River Plate on November 10, 1928 with 325 passengers and crew aboard ship. The next day, she ran into a storm with heavy seas and started to list to starboard. On this day, the listing worsened as cargo and coal bunkers shifted. The ship was leaking and severe list brought in water. At 9.56 AM the ship sent out an SOS and gave her position – which was erroneous and off by about 37 miles. The ship was off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia and in ever more trouble. A second SOS was sent at 11.04 AM. At some point between 11 AM and noon, the order was given to man the lifeboats and the ship was abandoned. Around 2 PM, the ship sank and rescue vessels finally arrived in the evening and early in the morning hours of November 13 only to find over 100 people had died.

According to The New York Times and Time magazine of the 128 passengers aboard ship, only 60 survived and of the 198 crew, 155 survived. The most horrific detail was that none of the 13 children and only 8 of the 33 women survived. The captain, William Carey, went down with his ship. This inexplicable loss of life, especially women and children, was a major concern. Criticisms over the delay in issuing an SOS call, as well as erroneous positioning was part of the problem. Also of major concern was the deployment of the lifeboats. Two of the first three lifeboats (which contained most of the women and all of the children, were improperly deployed and sank along with the Vestris. Another lifeboat swamped later. The life preservers aboard ship were outdated.

There were over 600 claimants filing lawsuits which totaled $5 million. The sinking attracted lots of press and included the report filed by Lorena Hickok by the Associated Press and the first time The New York Times filed an article under a woman’s byline. The ship is thought to lie on the ocean floor about 1.2 miles deep and about 200 miles off the coast of Virginia. Due to the extreme loss of life, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was revisited in 1929 with greater safety measures instituted. SOLAS was created after the sinking of the Titanic and has been updated several times since. This date, 1948, 1960, 1974, 1988, and with amendments added at later dates, the last in May 2011. The treaty has 159 contracting States which accounts for about 99% of merchant ships around the world.

I thought that the ship’s incline was always the same way and that something must be decidedly wrong. I’ve travelled a great deal, have been across the ocean many times, and up and down the American itself a great many times, and I know when a ship stands on one side and never turns over to the other side , something is wrong.

By 8 o’clock Monday morning, I was absolutely sure that an S 0 S had gone out hours before. Anyone with the lives of so many persons on their hands should have called for help long before. I never thought for a moment that there hadn’t been a distress signal.

When I saw there was to, hope, anymore, I took my wife and baby to the smoke room and later to the deck. This was at 9 A.M. We waited on deck, looking for the steamers we were absolutely sure must have been called to our help.

Suddenly, though we heard no orders and though no officers were in sight, the crew began to take down the lifeboats. You could see that none of them had ever even tried to lower a lifeboat before. – all from Fred Puppe, testifying at the inquiry

Also on this day: Thar She Blows – In 1970, a rotting beached whale was removed from an Oregon beach, sorta.
Daring Young Man – In 1859, the first trapeze performance took place.
Terrorist Attack – In 1997, Ramzi Yousef was found guilty of the WTC bombing of 1993.
Found – In 1912, Robert Scott’s frozen body was found.
He Should Have Stuck With Writing – In 1793, Jean Bailly, French politician, died.

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He Should Have Stuck With Writing

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2014
Jean-Sylvain Bailly (1736-93) 1789 (oil on canvas) by Mosnier, Jean Laurent (1743/4-1808) oil on canvas Musee de la Ville de Paris, Musee Carnavalet

Jean-Sylvain Bailly by Mosnier, Jean Laurent 

November 12, 1793:  Jean Sylvain Bailly dies. He was born in Paris, France in 1736. His father was an artist and supervisor of the Louvre. His grandfather had also been an artist and the younger Bailly was intended to follow the family traditions. As a student, he became interested in the sciences, particularly astronomy. Nicolas de Lacaille was a particular influence over Bailly. The young man was able to calculate the next appearance of Halley’s Comet and correctly reduced Lacaille’s observations of 515 stars. Bailly also participated in the construction of an observatory at the Louvre and was elected to the 31st French Academy of Sciences in 1763 for all the above mentioned efforts.

He went on to publish several papers concerning the sciences and astronomy. He also wrote histories of past and present notable personages including King Charles V, Moliere, and Gottfried Leibniz. Bailly was admitted to the Académie française in 1784 and to the Académie des Inscriptions in 1785. After that time, he devoted his efforts to writing about the history of science with several books published in the years that followed. Because of his achievements in this field, there is a lunar crater named in his honor. Unfortunately, the politics of the time interrupted his studies and he was forced to abandon his writing and participated instead in the French Revolution.

Bailly was elected deputy from Paris to the Estates-General and was then elected as the president of the National Assembly on June 17, 1789. He played a pivotal role in the Tennis Court Oath. It was there that 576 of the 577 members of the Third Estate were locked out a meeting of the Estates-General and were forced to meet at a local tennis court. They pledged “not to separate, and to reassemble wherever circumstances require, until the constitution of the kingdom is established”. After the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 Bailly became the first mayor of Paris and remained in that role until November 16, 1791.

Bailly along with the Marquis de Lafayette are considered to be indisputable heroes of the French Revolution. Bailly was attacked in his role as mayor for being too conservative. One of his positions was to promote the power of the mayor while limiting the power of the General Assembly of the Commune. He helped pass a law even in the face of threats which made Jews French citizens with all attendant rights and privileges. After leaving the post of mayor, he retired to Nantes and began to write again. He left Nantes and was recognized. He was supposed to testify against Marie Antoinette and refused to do so. He was brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal in Paris during the Reign of Terror. He was tried and found guilty and on this day, he was sent in the freezing rain, to the guillotine. He died at the age of 57.

Heckler from the crowd at his execution: Do you tremble, Bailly?
Jean Sylvain Bailly: Yes, but it is only the cold.

He met his death with patient dignity; having, indeed, disastrously shared the enthusiasms of his age, but taken no share in its crimes. – Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911

Jean Sylvain Bailly was born in the Louvre and died less than a mile away, under the guillotine. – Dan Edelstein

Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts; they do not condemn kings, they drop them back into the void; and this justice is worth just as much as that of the courts. – Maximilien de Robespierre

Also on this day: Thar She Blows – In 1970, a rotting beached whale was removed from an Oregon beach, sorta.
Daring Young Man – In 1859, the first trapeze performance took place.
Terrorist Attack – In 1997, Ramzi Yousef was found guilty of the WTC bombing of 1993.
Found – In 1912, Robert Scott’s frozen body was found.

Daring Young Man

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2013
Jules Léotard

Jules Léotard

November 12, 1859: The Cirque Napoleon presents a new and spectacular circus act. Jules Léotard was the son of a gymnasium instructor. His date of birth is unknown but is thought to have been in 1842. He had passed all his exams and was on the brink of entering into the Practice of Law. Instead, he began to play with trapeze bars, ropes, and rings while suspended over a swimming pool. He became adept at the moves and joined the circus. His opening night’s performance lasted for 12 minutes. He spun between three trapezes and ended by somersaulting onto a carpet-covered mat. The safety net wasn’t invented until 1871.

The act was unprecedented. His co-workers were so impressed they threw a lavish party and gave Jules a medal. He had to move freely between his swinging trapezes and so also invented a costume, the eponymous one-piece, skin-tight, long-sleeved garment was built for freedom of movement and to show off his muscled physique. He called the outfit a maillot, French for bathing suit. Today it is called a leotard in his honor. By 1861, Jules was flying over the heads of diners at the Alhambra Theatre in London and earning £180 per week, or about £5,000 in today’s economy. He died in Spain in 1870 of smallpox of cholera.

The modern circus was invented in London in 1768. Philip Astley combined horseback riding with acrobatic skills and entertained the masses. The first ring was created in 1779 and it measured 42.5 feet in diameter, a standard still used today. The term “circus” was coined by Charles Hughes in 1782. In 1793, Bill Ricketts moved to Philadelphia along with his troupe of entertainers, bringing the circus to America and by 1797 he was performing in Quebec as well.

By 1825, the circus was a worldwide phenomenon. It moved under the big top when Joshua Purdy Brown adapted a tent to the purpose. The Cirque Napoleon was established in 1852 and is now called the Cirque d’Hiver. Today, circuses are held in arenas. Even Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey abandoned the Big Top in 1956. There are schools scattered around the world teaching the performers the necessary skills so they, too, can run away and join the circus.

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease,
That daring young man on the flying trapeze.” – George Leybourne

“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” – Kin Hubbard

“The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous will happen.” – Claude Debussy

“Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going, don’t take anything too seriously, it’ll all work out in the end.” – David Niven

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: A trapeze is simply a short horizontal bar hung between ropes or metal straps. The horizontal bar is parallel to the ground, but it is high in the air. Performances use various methods. A static trapeze act has the performer working on a bar that is not moving, hence the name. There are moves along the bar and suspension cords while the bar itself remains stable. A swinging trapeze has a performer executing tricks while a bar swings through the air. The performer can actually leave the trapeze, but instead of moving across space, lands back on the same bar from which he or she started. Doing a flying trapeze act means that the performer is flying between at least two different trapezes with or without secondary performers on the other bars. These acts often have the flyer, the person who goes between bars, and a catcher, the person responsible for plucking the flyer from the air as they move through space. These acts are often performed over a safety net.

Also on this day: Thar She Blows – In 1970, a rotting beached whale was removed from an Oregon beach, sorta.
Terrorist Attack – In 1997, Ramzi Yousef was found guilty of the WTC bombing of 1993.
Found – In 1912, Robert Scott’s frozen body was found.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2012

Robert Falcon Scott

November 12, 1912: Robert Falcon Scott’s frozen body is found. Scott was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to Antarctica. The first exploration went well. The Discovery Expedition (1901 – 04) sponsored by both the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society. The did not make a serious attempt to reach the South Pole but did bring back data on biology, zoology, geology, meteorology, and magnetism. They reached as far south as 82⁰17’S before returning to England. The trip brought fame to many of the Heroic Age of Discovery participants but they never mastered competent polar travel using dogs and skis. This would last throughout the period for British Antarctic expeditions. The team returned to England in September 1904 and became celebrities of a sort.

Between the two trips, Scott and a fellow explorer from the first trip began to vie for leadership for the next voyage. Ernest Shackleton wished to lead his own expedition. In the first one, he was near physical collapse and left the expedition early. The two men finally agreed to work in different areas of Antarctica but because of poor landing sites, Shackleton was not able to keep his part of the bargain. Between the two trips, Scott met and married Kathleen Bruce. While Scott was thus occupied, Shackleton made his trip to Antarctica and back, almost reaching the South Pole. This led Scott to make another voyage.

Scott was given leadership of the Terra Nova Expedition and stated his main purpose was to reach the South Pole. Both royal societies were hoping for a more scientific expedition but were not in charge of the trip. Scott did not realize he was in a race for the Pole until he heard word of Roald Amundsen’s quest in October 1910. Scott was still in Melbourne at the time. The rush to supply the ship for the trip south and Scott’s lack of understanding about travel there led to a couple mistakes. He had horses purchased for the trip which proved to be of poor quality and ill-suited to the task. The next issue was being stuck in an ice pack for 20 days, far longer than usual, giving his team a late start to the season. The main supply point was placed 35 miles farther north than originally planned.

Scott’s team left for the South Pole on November 1, 1911. Because both horses and dogs were used, the group traveled at different rates. While it was first planned for all to go to the Pole, it was finally decided that Scott and four men would make the run alone. They finally reached the Pole on January 17, 1912 only to find that Amundsen had been there first. They began their 800 mile journey back two days later. Edgar Evers died on the trip back on February 17 about half way back. Things were looking bleak for the rest of the group as well. The weather deteriorated and the men were exhausted, frozen, and dealing with snow blindness. Lawrence Oates was the next to die. The remaining men were caught in blizzard and died on March 29. The rest of their party found them eight months later, on this day, frozen in their tent and by the placement of the bodies determined Scott was the last to die.

We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last … Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for. – Robert Scott, last entry to his diary

As beautiful as simplicity is, it can become a tradition that stands in the way of exploration. – Laura Nyro

Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit. – Frank Borman

That is the exploration that awaits you! Not mapping stars and studying nebula, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence. – Leonard Nimoy

Also on this day:

Thar She Blows – In 1970, a rotting beached whale was removed from an Oregon beach, sorta.
Daring Young Man – In 1859, the first trapeze performance took place.
Terrorist Attack – In 1997, Ramzi Yousef was found guilty of the WTC bombing of 1993.

Terrorist Attack

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2011

World Trade Center bombing of 1993

November 12, 1997: Ramzi Yousef is found guilty of masterminding the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. On February 26, 1993 a 1,500 pound urea nitrate-fuel oil bomb exploded in the underground parking area of the World Trade Center in New York City. The plan of the terrorists was to have the bomb topple Tower One (where the bomb was hidden) in into Tower Two and have the entire complex come crashing to the ground. The bomb loaded into a Ryder truck exploded at 12: 17 PM killing six and injuring 1,042. A 100 foot hole was blasted through 4 sublevels of concrete. Luckily the buildings did not collapse and kill the expected 250,000 people.

Ramzi had many aliases. He was of Pakistani descent but born in Kuwait. He excelled in math and science and spoke several languages. He was the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a senior al-Qaeda member. He obtained an engineering degree in 1989 from Swansea,Wales.

Hours after the 1993 bombing failed to topple the twin towers, Yousef was headed back to Pakistan. He continued his terrorist attacks. In 1993, he was injured when interrupted while planting a bomb intended to kill the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. In December 1994, Yousef planted a bomb on a plane and noticed that the bomb did not work to his satisfaction. While it did blow a hole in the plane, the pilot was able to safely land and save over 200 passengers. Yousef went on to create more bombs that would better serve his purpose.

On February 7, 1995 Pakistani Intelligence and Diplomatic Security Service special agents Bill Miller and Jeff Rines entered an al-Qaeda safe house in Islamabad,Pakistan and arrested Yousef. They were given a tip as to his location from a man he tried to recruit. Isfaique Parker was paid $2 million for information leading to the arrest. Yousef was extradited to the US where he was found guilty of the bombings. In 1997, Osama bin Laden denied knowing Yousef. Uncle Khalid was the mastermind behind the successful WTC destruction of 2001.

“I am a terrorist, and I am proud of it as long as it is against theU.S.government.” – Ramzi Yousef

“The best way to find these terrorists who hide in holes is to get people coming forth to describe the location of the hole, is to give clues and data.” – George W. Bush

“While we must remain determined to defeat terrorism, it isn’t only terrorism we are fighting. It’s the beliefs that motivate terrorists. A new ideology of hatred and intolerance has arisen to challenge America and liberal democracy.” – Senator John Kerry

“We will not let terrorists change our way of life; we will not live in fear; and we will not undermine the civil liberties that characterize our Democracy.” – Adam Schiff

Also on this day:
Thar She Blows – In 1970, a rotting beached whale was removed from an Oregon beach, sorta.
Daring Young Man – In 1859, the first trapeze performance took place.

Thar She Blows

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 12, 2010



Dynamite was used to blow up a rotting beached whale, with unintended consequences.


November 12, 1970: A dead whale that washed up on the beaches at Florence, Oregon is disposed of. The 45 foot 8 ton sperm whale had been dead for some time before being beached. The smell was unpleasant at best. The Oregon Highway Division was called in to rid the beach of the effluvium.

Paul Linnman was a reporter working for KATU News and he went to film what was supposed to be a rather comical disposal problem. The Highway Division had decided the corpse could not be buried because it would soon be unburied. It could not be cut into pieces because no one wanted the job and it was deemed unsavory to burn it. Instead, it was decided to blow the whale to bits so that scavengers could eat them.

Over 20 cases, one-half ton, of dynamite was placed on the leeward side of the whale. It was thought that the bloated, stinking corpse would disintegrate and with the power of the blast, most portions would be blown out toward the ocean. George Thornton, the highway engineer in charge of the project told the camera, “I’m confident that it will work.”

The 75 bystanders were moved back to about a quarter mile from the blast site. The dynamite exploded with the cameras showing the scene and the background voices laughing and in a festive mood. Until … plunks and thuds are heard on the tape. The people were being pelted with whale blubber, one huge slab falling on a parked car and crushing it. Fortunately, no large pieces caused severe harm to any spectators. The major portion of the whale remained undisturbed on the beach and was eventually buried.

Dave Barry found out about this fascinating bit of engineering catastrophe and in his famous “I am not making this up” reporting style wrote the event up for his Miami [Florida] Herald column in 1990. The article made its way into his book and the whole infamous episode was brought again to the public attention. Oregon did learn from their mistakes and when a pod of dead whales was once again beached on their shores, they incinerated the corpses. For video goodness, see here.

“The blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds.” – Paul Linnman

“My insurance company is never going to believe this.” – Walter Umenhofer as he surveyed the crushed remains of his big Buick.

“So anyway, the highway engineers hit upon the plan – remember, I am not making this up – of blowing up the whale with dynamite. The thinking here was that the whale would be blown into small pieces, which would be eaten by sea gulls, and that would be that. A textbook whale removal.” – Dave Barry

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” – Denis Waitley

Also on this day, in 1859 Jules Leotard gives the first trapeze performance ever.