Little Bits of History

The Blitz

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2015
Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940*

Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940*

November 14, 1940: Coventry, England is the target for the German Luftwaffe. Blitzkrieg is the German word for “lightning war” and the term was used during World War II although shortened to The Blitz. It was a series of strategic bombings of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany. Coventry was the target several times as they were an industrial city making war materials. At the beginning of the war, there were around 240,000 people living there and many worked in the plants which made cars, bicycles, plane engines, and most importantly to the Germans, munitions. During World War I, Coventry Ordnance Works was one of the leading manufacturers of British munitions. There had been 17 smaller air raids between August and October 1940. During these three months, about 198 bombs were dropped and 178 people were killed and another 680 were injured.

On this date, the most devastating Blitz took place. There were 515 German bombers from Luftflotte 3 darkening the skies over Coventry. The attack was codenamed Operation Mondscheinsonate or Moonlight Sonata. The main goal of the Germans was to destroy the factories and infrastructure but collateral damage to the rest of the city including residential areas and monuments was considered to be acceptable. At 7.20 PM, the initial planes, 13 specially modified Heinkel He 111s, dropped marker flares. The two sides were fighting the Battle of the Beams and on this date, the British were unable to disrupt the dropping of the signal bombs.

After the flares came a wave of high explosive bombs which took out the local utilities and cratered the main roads which made it difficult for firefighters to respond to the ensuing fires. The fires were intense as the next wave of bombers dropped incendiary bombs with the purpose of making life difficult for the fire brigades and to damage roofs so that buildings might be destroyed by fire. On the ground, the British were operating 24 anti-aircraft guns firing 3.7 inch shells and another dozen 40 mm Bofors. The British fired over 6,700 rounds and only managed to bring down one German plane. Around 8 PM, Coventry Cathedral caught fire after being hit with an incendiary bomb. The first hit and resulting fire were brought under control, but subsequent fires due to continued bombing proved too much and the cathedral was nearly destroyed.

There were over 200 fires in the city raging through the night. Most of them were in the city center. Telephones had been crippled by the initial bombing runs and made communications even more difficult. Water mains had been destroyed making fire control more difficult. The bombing reached its highest peak around midnight. More than 4,300 homes were destroyed and about ⅔ of the city’s buildings were damaged. One-third of the city’s factories were destroyed. There were about 568 people killed with 863 more badly injured. There were another 393 people who had lesser injuries. The technique of serial types of bombing runs was new and the Allies would later adopt them. The city was rebuilt (and attacked again). Today, nearly 340,000 people call it home.

Coventry … was therefore, in terms of what little law existed on the subject, a legitimate target for aerial bombing. – Frederick Taylor

Coventry was adequately concentrated in point of space [to start a firestorm], but all the same there was little concentration in point of time. – Arthur Harris

Ultra [intercepted German messages] never mentioned Coventry… Churchill, so far from pondering whether to save Coventry or safeguard Ultra, was under the impression that the raid was to be on London. – Peter Calvocoressi

Enigma signals to the X-beam stations were not broken in time. – RV Jones

Also on this day: Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist – In 1889, Nellie Bly left for her trip around the world.
The Big Barbecue – In 1957, a Mafia meeting was held in Apalachin, New York.
Sugar and Spice – In 1997, Reena Virk was murdered.
Crash – In 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed in West Virginia.
Seeing Red – In 1967, a patent for a laser was given to Theodore Maiman.

* “Coventry Cathedral after the air raid in 1940” by GoShow – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

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Seeing Red

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2014
Theodore Maiman

Theodore Maiman

November 14, 1967: Patent # 3,353,115 is issued to Theodore Maiman. He was born in 1927 in Los Angeles, California. His father was an electrical engineer and inventor. Ted helped his father with experimentation in their home laboratory after the family moved to Denver, Colorado. By the time he was a teenager, he was earning money by fixing electrical appliances and radios. After high school, Maiman was employed by the National Union Radio Company at the age of 17. He served in the US Navy during World War II and then earned his undergrad degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Colorado. He went on to Stanford University and received both his masters and PhD degrees from there.

Maiman’s doctoral thesis involved microwave-optical measurements of fine structural splittings in excited helium atoms and was achieved under the direction of Willis Lamb, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, awarded in 1955. While conducting research, Maiman also devised laboratory instrumentation for Lamb’s experiments. Maiman’s thesis experimentation was instrumental in his development of the laser, which is what the patent awarded on this day was for.

In 1956, Maiman began working at the Atomic Physics Department of the Hughes Aircraft Company (later HRL Laboratories) where he led the ruby maser redesign project for the US Army Signal Corps. He was able to reduce it from a 2.5-ton cryogenic device to four pounds and still improve performance. Because of his success in this venture, he was able to convince management to use company funds for research into his laser project. On a total budget of $50,000 he was able to design a laser using a synthetic ruby crystal. He was able to demonstrate this first laser (which other scientists had refused to believe would work) on May 16, 1960. He submitted this for patent and finally received that patent on this day.

A laser is a light-emitting device which works via optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term is an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” and is much easier to say. Lasers emit light coherently which makes them different from other light sources. A ruby laser is a solid-state laser using a synthetic ruby crystal as its gain medium and emits pulses of visible light at a wavelength of 694.3 nm – a deep red color. One of the major applications of ruby lasers is for range finding. They were the standard for military use by 1964. They are rarely used in industry because of low efficiency and low repetition rates. Their use is in decline as better systems have been invented. Maiman went on to win many awards both during his life and posthumously. He changed the world with his discovery and had been given accolades appropriate to his ingenuity. He died in 2007 at the age of 79 of a rare disease, systemic mastocytosis.

Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one. – Theodore Maiman

It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure. Theodore Maimen

A laser is a solution seeking a problem. – Theodore Maiman

Dr. Maiman published his discovery in the British journal Nature, after the journal Physical Review Letters mistakenly rejected it as repetitive. In a book marking the centennial of Nature, Dr. Townes called the short article “the most important per word of any of the wonderful papers” that the prestigious journal had published in its 100 years. – New York Times obituary for Theodore Maiman

Also on this day: Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist – In 1889, Nellie Bly left for her trip around the world.
The Big Barbecue – In 1957, a Mafia meeting was held in Apalachin, New York.
Sugar and Spice – In 1997, Reena Virk is murdered.
Crash – In 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed in West Virginia.

The Big Barbecue

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2013
Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara

Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara

November 14, 1957: A meeting takes place at Joe’s house in Apalachin, New York. Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara was the boss of the Bufalino crime family based out of Pennsylvania. The family was part of an organization collectively called Cosa Nostra or familiarly known as the Mafia. Cosa Nostra, the secret Sicilian society, was joined by other crime syndicates in the 1930s. Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky, along with other ethnic crime bosses formed the National Crime Syndicate.

As with any organization, rivalries and in-fighting can cause difficulties for the whole. The reason for the Apalachin Meeting was to resolve issues surrounding gambling, casinos, and narcotics distribution country-wide but especially in the New York City area. There were about 100 people present to discuss these matters and the recent Scalise and Anastasia murders. With a possible gang war ready to break on the streets of NYC, all the nation’s bosses along with representatives from Italy, met to forestall a war of attrition as well as to divide up the lucrative markets among the families.

Bosses, advisors, and bodyguards gathered at the 53-acre estate about 200 miles west of NYC and close to the Pennsylvania border. A local state trooper had stopped Carmine Galante as he drove away from the mansion the year before. The trooper had been keeping a close eye on the estate since that time. Joe’s son had been busy making reservations for out of town guests at the local hotels and a number of luxury cars were seen going to the estate. As license plates were run, it was noted that many cars were registered to known criminals. Roadblocks were set up. Even though no crime was being committed, when the gangsters heard of the roadblocks, they panicked and tried to flee.

Up to 50 men escaped. However, 58 were apprehended. All the men taken into custody claimed they had heard Joe was sick and were just in town to visit a sick friend. They were all released, since no crime had been committed. La Cosa Nostra and the FBI were both embarrassed by the raid. One because they had been so easily found and the other because J. Edgar Hoover had long denied any National Crime Syndicate existed. With this evidence, Hoover set up a “Top Hoodlum Program” which led to greater scrutiny of many of the top crime bosses. They also were served with more indictments and grand jury subpoenas.

“I really grew very tired of all the Italian mafia movies that parade fancy silk suits, diamond pinky rings and lavish homes. Moviegoers may fantasize about living like that, but they can’t relate to it. Guys in the Irish mafia are different from the Italians. Irish gangsters mostly dress like working-class people, drive average cars, and enjoy a good barstool conversation, just like me and you. They just happen to make their money illegally and are exceedingly violent behind closed doors.” – Mike Kenney

“People can identify with someone taking the law into their own hands. There’s a sense of self-empowerment to it. I think that’s why people continue to romanticize the Mafia.” – Peter Agostino

“The Mafia has returned to dominate the landscape and become more of an economic presence instead of an armed presence. It has returned to make its presence known in the social circles that count.” – Antonio Ingroia

“If ‘The Godfather’ gets an award, does that mean the academy endorses the Mafia or the violence associated with the Mafia? Does ‘The Sopranos’ in any way promote the violence that is such an integral part of the hoodlum’s life? I don’t see the connection.” – Amir Harel

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The National Crime Syndicate was a name used by the press and not something used by those it described. Those who wrote about the national crime situation claimed the idea came from Johnny “The Fox” Torrio and the Syndicate was formed in Atlantic City during a conference held there in 1929. A US Senate Special Committee in the 1950s described the confederation as mainly Italian and Jewish with organized crime groups scattered throughout the US. Enforcement for the National Crime Syndicate was carried out by a Brooklyn mafiosi gang called, by the press at least, Murder, Inc. It was headed by Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro and Albert “Mad Hatter”Anastasia who in turn reported to commission members Louise “Lepke” Buchalter and Joe Adonis. However, in a biography of Meyer Lansky, called Little Man and written in 1991 by Robert Lacey, it was asserted there was no National Crime Syndicate. Lacey claimed that the Syndicate was often confused with the mafia and they are not the same thing.

Also on this day: Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist – In 1889, Nellie Bly left for her trip around the world.
Sugar and Spice – In 1997, Reena Virk is murdered.
Crash – In 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed in West Virginia.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2012

Southern Airways Flight 932 crash

November 14, 1970: Southern Airways Flight 932 crashes. The crash occurred in Wayne County, West Virginia near Ceredo. The plane, a Douglas DC-9, had left Stalling Field in Kingston, North Carolina on its way to Huntington Tri-State Airport/Milton J. Ferguson Field. Aboard the plane were the 37 members of the Marshall University Thundering Herd football team. They were returning home from losing a game (17-14)  to the East Carolina Pirates in Greenville, North Carolina. Also aboard the plane were eight members of the coaching staff and 25 boosters as well as four flight crew members and one employee of the charter company.

The plane was a 95-seat twin jet engine Douglas DC-9-31. The tail registration was N97S and it was captained by Frank H. Abbot. First Officer was Jerry Smith and Pat Vaught and Charlene Poat were the flight attendants. Also aboard was Danny Deese, a Southern Airways employee who was aboard to coordinate charter activities.  At the time, Marshall University teams rarely flew to games. They played in regions where they were easily within driving distance. They vacillated on whether or not to charter a flight for this game and eventually opted to use Southern Airways. They flight was the first for the football team that year.

They left Stallings Field and flew toward Huntington without incident. At 7:23 PM, the flight communicated with air traffic control where they received instructions to descend to 5,000 feet. They were also advised that there was “rain, fog, smoke and a ragged ceiling” which would make the landing more difficult, but not impossible. At 7:34 PM, the crew reported passing the Tri-State Airport’s outer marker. They were given clearance to land.

As they neared on their final approach, the plane collided with the tops of trees on a hillside 5,543 feet west of runway 12. The plane burst into flames and left charred ground 95 feet wide and 279 feet long. According to official reports, the accident was “unsurvivable”. The report went on to say the plane “Dipped to the right, almost inverted and had crashed into a hollow ‘nose-first’.” When the plane finally stopped, it was 4,219 feet short of the runway and 275 feet south of the middle marker. All 75 people aboard were killed. Officials also reported that there could have been an error due to water in the altimeter, thus giving it a false reading. The pilots had never flown into this airport before and there was little visibility of the runway. Therefore they had little option but to believe their instrumentation.

They shall live on in the hearts of their families and friends forever and this memorial records their loss to the university and the community. – memorial plaque

I wouldn’t mind dying in a plane crash. It’d be a good way to go. I don’t want to die in my sleep, or of old age, or OD…I want to feel what it’s like. I want to taste it, hear it, smell it. Death is only going to happen to you once; I don’t want to miss it. – Jim Morrison

Life is a gamble. You can get hurt, but people die in plane crashes, lose their arms and legs in car accidents; people die every day. Same with fighters: some die, some get hurt, some go on. You just don’t let yourself believe it will happen to you. – Muhammad Ali

The secret of flight is this: you have to do it immediately, before your body realizes it is defying the laws. – Michael Cunningham

Also on this day:

Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist – In 1889, Nellie Bly left for her trip around the world.
The Big Barbecue – In 1957, a Mafia meeting was held in Apalachin, New York.
Sugar and Spice – In 1997, Reena Virk is murdered.

Sugar and Spice

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2011

Reena Virk

November 14, 1997: Fourteen-year-old Reena Virk is murdered. She was born in India and emigrated with her family to Saanich, British Columbia, Canada. There was a community of East Indian émigrés, but most of them were Sikh while the Virk family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Reena was estranged from her family and even spent time in a foster home, where she was introduced to the gang lifestyle. She craved acceptance but was met with ostracism, bullying, and teasing from her peers. She was an overweight teen who didn’t fit. There is some question as to whether race and religion also played into her troubles.

Reena was invited to a “party” at Craigflower Bridge, a local teen hangout. She accepted and met seven girls there. They talked, drank, and smoked marijuana. The party turned hostile when the seven girls attacked Reena. Warren Glowatski was nearby and joined in the beating, even though he had never met Reena before. Reena had several burns from where cigarettes were ground out on her skin. Her hair was singed.Warren kicked her at least twice in the head. One girl called for a halt to the abuse. They took Reena’s backpack from her and allowed her to stagger away. The party broke up and most of the girls went home.

Warren and Kelly Ellard followed Reena and dragged her back under the bridge. They had her take off her shoes and jacket. They began to again beat her.Warren claims that Kelly smashed Reena’s head into a tree, knocking her out. They dragged her to the edge of the water where Kelly held Reena’s head down. As Reena struggled, she was attacked again with Kelly breaking Reena’s arms and then successfully holding her head beneath the water until Reena died.

A week later, all eight participants were arrested. Six of the girls were found guilty of assault causing bodily harm. Warren and Ellen were found guilty of second-degree murder. Both were teens at the time of the assault and both received life sentences with the possibility of parole after seven years. The coroner ruled that death was by drowning but the autopsy revealed that Reena had suffered several fractures and that her head injury was severe enough that it would have caused death if she had not been drowned first.

“There is a great streak of violence in every human being.  If it is not channeled and understood, it will break out in war or in madness.” – Sam Peckinpah

“What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?” – Alan Paton

“The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear – fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable.  What he wants above everything else is safety.” – Henry Louis Mencken

“It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.” – Buddha

Also on this day:
Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist – In 1889, Nellie Bly left for her trip around the world.
The Big Barbecue – In 1957, a Mafia meeting was held in Apalachin, New York.

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Nellie Bly – Woman Journalist

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 14, 2010

Nellie Bly in 1890

November 14, 1889: Nellie Bly, working for the New York City newspaper, NY World, leaves on a trip around the world. Elizabeth Jane Cochrane was born in 1864, a spunky child who usually dressed in pink and was therefore called “Pink.” She became a writer in her native Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. However, she was given lowly, “women’s topic” writing assignments and left in a huff. She arrived in New York City and began to write for NY World. She was given the byline Nellie Bly to protect her reputation because reporting was not considered a respectable job for a woman.

Her first major assignment was in 1887 when she got herself admitted to an insane asylum and remained incarcerated for ten days. She wrote a blistering expose about the poor food, inadequate clothing, cruel staff, and total lack of anything that resembled care. Her book, Ten Days in a Mad-House caused enough uproar to garner a $850,000 increase in funding and an overhaul of treatment regimens.

In 1888, the editors of NY World planned to cash in on Jules Verne’s blockbuster Around the World in Eighty Days. They intended to send a man around the world in fewer days. Nellie Bly insisted that she be given the assignment. She made it around the world in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds – a world record that would be broken within a few more months.

The World printed a game about her trip in their paper that was made into a board game by the McLaughlin Brothers. Her major ports of call included: Hoboken, New Jersey [her starting point]; London; Amiens, France where she met Jules Verne and his wife; Brindisi, Italy where she caught a steamer; Port Sied, Egypt; Singapore; Hong Kong; San Francisco; and back to Hoboken. She also paid visits in Paris, Berlin, Naples, Moscow, Constantinople, Athens, Aden, Jerusalem, Bombay, Calcutta, Manila, Yokohama, and Chicago. Bon Voyage.

“It is quite possible to buy tickets in New York for the entire trip, but I thought that I might be compelled to change my route at almost any point, so the only transportation I had provided on leaving New York was my ticket to London.”

“I looked as long as I could at the people on the pier. I did not feel as happy as I have at other times in life. I had a sentimental longing to take farewell of everything. ‘I am off,’ I thought sadly, ‘and shall I ever get back?’”

“There is nothing like plenty of food to preserve health. I know that cup of coffee saved me from a headache that day. I had been shaking with the cold as we made our hurried drive through London, and my head was so dizzy at times that I hardly knew whether the earth had a chill or my brains were attending a ball. When I got comfortable seated in the train I began to feel warmer and more stable.”

“To so many people this wide world over am I indebted for kindnesses that I cannot, in a little book like this, thank them all individually. They form a chain around the earth. To each and all of you, men, women and children, in my land and in the lands I visited, I am most truly grateful. Every kind act and thought, if but an unuttered wish, a cheer, a tiny flower, is imbedded in my memory as one of the pleasant things of my novel tour.” – all from Nellie Bly’s book, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days

“People say you have to travel to see the world. sometimes I think that if you just stay in one place and keep your eyes open, you’re going to see just about all that you can handle.” – Paul Auster

Also on this day, in 1957 the Mafia held a large meeting in Apalachin, New York.

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