Little Bits of History

No Longer Boss

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 23, 2015
Boss Tweed

Boss Tweed

November 23, 1876: Boss Tweed returns to New York. William Magear Tweed was born in 1823 in New York City where he left school at age 11 to join his father’s chair making business. He tried a variety of other jobs (saddler, bookkeeper, brush maker) before returning to the family business in 1852. He was a member of the Odd Fellows and Masons and also served as a volunteer firefighter where he and some of his friends organized the Americus Fire Company No. 6 and it was there the snarling red Bengal tiger was first used. It would become Tweed’s symbol throughout his years at Tammany Hall. Infighting among the volunteer fire companies was so intense that buildings would burn to the ground while they fought over who would put the fire out.

Tweed was elected to the US House of Representatives and served two non-descript terms beginning in 1852. The Republican state government was concerned by the corruption in New York City government and increased the New York County Board of Supervisors to 12 members, six appointed by New York City’s mayor and six elected. In 1858, Tweed was appointed to the Board and was able to finally use it for his wide-spread graft. He and others would add a “surcharge” of 15% to be paid to them for anyone who wished to work in the city. He never trained as a lawyer, but a Judge friend proclaimed he was one and he opened a law office. He was chosen to lead Tammany’s general committee in January 1863 and was soon known as Boss.

His greed knew no bounds. He used his friends and his influence to increase both his power and his personal wealth. After the election of 1869, he was able to take control of the New York City government. His election promise had included a new city charter, which he promptly instituted. He did not stick to his campaign promises and used the charter to send more power and money to his own office. His private coffers were filling to the detriment of the city. After the Orange riot of 1871, the attacks on his policies became more intense and scrutiny into the workings of both Tweed and Tammany Hall increased. Outrage over his antics finally led to his arrest. He was released on a $1 million bond and went about getting re-elected. He was but many of his friends did not fare so well.

Tweed was re-arrested and forced to resign his city positions and then released again, this time on $8 million bond. He was tried in January 1873 and the jury was unable to agree on a verdict. A retrial in November brought in 204 convictions on the 220 counts. He was levied a fine and prison time. After his release, he tried to retrieve embezzled funds and was arrested and unable to make bail. He escaped during a home visit and wet to Spain. The US government located him and had him extradited. He returned to New York City and prison on this day. He died in prison on April 12, 1878 from pneumonia at the age of 55.

The way to have power is to take it.

I don’t care a straw for your newspaper articles, my constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures.

I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating. – all from William Boss Tweed

The arrogance of the full possession of power and the defiance against the remonstrances of honest men drove him to the extreme of audacity, “What are you going to do about it?” which preceded his fall. – William Martin

Also on this day: Healthy Hearts – In 1964, the first coronary bypass graft surgery was performed by Dr. Michael DeBakey.
Censorship – In 1644, John Milton wrote about freedom of the press.
Hijacked – In 1985, EgyptAir Flight 648 was hijacked.
Why Thespians? – In 534 BC, Thespis won an entertainment contest in Athens.
Pretender – In 1499, Perkin Warbeck died.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 23, 2014
Perkin Warbeck

Perkin Warbeck

November 23, 1499: Perkin Warbeck dies. Little is known for certain about his early life. His own account is most certainly inaccurate. He presented himself to English Court as Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, younger son of King Edward IV. In 1497, he was captured and interrogated with King Henry VII in attendance. The captured man confessed, probably with additional inaccuracies, to have been the son of John Osbeck or Jehan de Werbecque. Osbeck was Flemish and comptroller of the city of Tournai. His mother, Katherine de Faro, was married to Osbeck. Research into municipal archives of Tournai show evidence of most of the people Warbeck claimed to be related to.

His mother brought him to Holland around age ten to learn Dutch and he was taught by several masters of the region before gaining employment with an English merchant, John Strewe. Warbeck longed for world travel and was hired by another merchant who brought the younger man to Cork, Ireland in 1491 and there he learned to speak English. Warbeck claimed that some Yorkists living in Cork offered him the honor of being a member of the Royal House of York as they were intent on gaining revenge on the King of England. They plotted to have Warbeck make his claim to the throne.

Warbeck’s first claim to the British throne came at the court of Burgundy in 1490. His back story was that his brother, Edward V had been murdered while the younger brother was spared because of his youth and innocence. He was forced at the time to swear himself to silence for “a certain number of years”. Between 1483 and 1490, according to his story, he had lived on the continent under protection of Yorkist loyalists with his main guardian being Sir Edward Brampton who returned to England and left the “Duke of York” free. In 1491 while in Ireland, Warbeck found little support and was forced to return to mainland Europe.

Eventually, Warbeck was officially recognized as Richard of Shrewsbury by Margaret of York, the widow of Charles the Bold and the sister of Edward IV. It is unknown as to whether or not Margaret truly believed the pretender or just wanted to support his cause. Warbeck landed in England in July 1495 and most of his small army were killed before he could get off his ship. He did receive support from James IV of Scotland. Warbeck once again tried to take England in 1497 but was again unsuccessful. He was arrested and initially treated well by King Henry. After his confession to being an imposter, he was released from the Tower of London. He was kept under guard at the King’s court and when he fled, he was quickly recaptured. Warbeck publicly confessed and was hanged at Tyburn on this date.

In the past, people were born royal. Nowadays, royalty comes from what you do. – Gianni Versace

Your part can be the king, but unless people are treating you like royalty, you ain’t no king, man. – Jeff Bridges

Upper class to me means you are either born into wealth or you’re Royalty. – Benedict Cumberbatch

When Religion and Royalty are swept away, the people will attack the great, and after the great, they will fall upon the rich. – Honore de Balzac

Also on this day: Healthy Hearts – In 1964, the first coronary bypass graft surgery was performed by Dr. Michael DeBakey.
Censorship – In 1644, John Milton wrote about freedom of the press.
Hijacked – In 1985, EgyptAir Flight 648 was hijacked.
Why Thespians? – In 534 BC, Thespis won an entertainment contest in Athens.

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Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 23, 2013
John Milton

John Milton

November 23, 1644: John Milton publishes a pamphlet called Areopagitica. Milton (1608-1674) was a poet, author, polemicist, and civil servant for the Commonwealth of England. He is best remembered for his epic poem, Paradise Lost, and this work. Polemics are formal argumentative dissertations on religious, philosophical, political, or scientific issues. The documents usually provide a view antithetical to those publicly held and seen as beyond reproach. Areopagitica was one of these writings. The title is a reference to a speech written by Isocrates in the fifth century BC.

The pamphlet was written to oppose the Licensing Order of 1643. The Star Chamber was abolished in July 1641. This was a British court of law at the Palace of Westminster. The system was set up to ensure equality under the law and was where prominent people were tried. Over time, the system was corrupted and became a political weapon wielded by the monarchy and the courts. The rulings were secretly arrived at and there was no oversight or accountability. It was a way to enforce censorship, protecting those who could purchase the court’s decisions. When Parliament disbanded the Star Chamber, they were not advocating for freedom from censors.

Parliament, simply stated, wanted to be the body to decide what to censor. Even so, with lessened strictures there was an impressive rise in new publications with 300 new books on the market between 1640 and 1660. The Licensing Order of 1643 reintroduced nearly all of the Star Chamber strictures only with Parliament holding the power. Books still needed pre-approved licenses; registration of publishers and authors remained; destruction of offensive books was still enacted; and the offending publishers, printers, and authors could still be imprisoned.

Areopagitica: A speech of Mr. John Milton for the liberty of unlicensed printing to the Parliament of England is Milton’s prose attack against censorship. It is a frequently cited work advocating for freedom of expression. The English Civil War was in full swing and ideas were being repressed by an authoritarian body. By publishing his polemic, Milton was daring the very censorship he decried to prove the merit of his argument. Milton admired the free expression of thought of the ancient Greeks and Romans. He was not exactly so revolutionary as to advocate for a total lack of censoring. If blasphemous or libelous works were published, it would be advantageous to destroy them. Milton used God’s Will as justification for freedom of the press. While not exactly aligned with today’s thoughts on freedom, it was a great start.

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

“As good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye.”

“And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

“I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.” – all from Areopagitica by John Milton

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: John Milton is mostly known for this epic poem, Paradise Lost. It was written in blank verse and first published in 1667. It is divided into ten books and has over 10,000 individual lines. It is based on the Biblical story of the Fall of Man. The cast of characters are Satan, Adam, Eve, the Son of God, God the Father, Raphael, and Michael. The story tells of the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel, Satan, and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The themes taken up in the work include both marriage and idolatry. The marriage of Adam and Eve is based on mutual dependence and is not hierarchical. It is not, however, without some misogyny as Adam is smarter than Eve and closer to God than she is. Idolatry is criticized and even the building of churches or altars is unnecessary, according to the book. God can be experienced without the physical objects used by mankind to theoretically bring God closer to man.

Also on this day: Healthy Hearts – In 1964, the first coronary bypass graft surgery was performed by Dr. Michael DeBakey.
Hijacked – In 1985, EgyptAir Flight 648 was hijacked.
Why Thespians? – In 534 BC, Thespis won an entertainment contest in Athens.

Why Thespians?

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 23, 2012

Athenian theater

November 23, 534 BC: The city Dionysia in Athens holds a contest. According to many Ancient Greek sources, but especially Aristotle, there was a contest held on this date to found a new form of entertainment. Aristotle lived about two centuries after this date, but oral tradition was strong in this time and other sources corroborate his information. Thespis was an entertainer of the day, performing songs called Dithyrambs, or stories about ancient mythology containing choric refrains. He is given credit for inventing a different presentation using only one performer who employed masks to indicate the different players in the myths.

Thespis became a strident proponent of an even newer type of entertainment – tragedies. He was said to have created the idea of a person performing not as himself, but in the guise of someone else. With the winning of this competition, he also invented touring, taking his show on the road. He would tour the countryside in a horse drawn wagon which contained his costumes, masks, and other props, literally taking his entire show on the road. He is sometimes given credit for writing plays as well, but most modern scholars believe this to be incorrect.

Acting has a long history, beginning – at least according to the tales of the time – from this date. Prior to Thespis’s style change, the singer of the dithyrambs would announce that So-and-So said something or did something, but Thespis took the leap to become the So-and-So and speak in his stead or act out the scene. Therefore instead of saying, for example, “Dionysus, did this, Dionysus said that” he would proclaim, “I am Dionysus. I did this.” In Ancient Greece, all actors were adult males and they also played any female or youth roles needed.

Today, actors come in all ages and genders and perform across a wide range of media. They can perform live on stage in a theater, live but taped for television, on a stage for taping for either TV or film. Actors assume the roles needed for the production and are often required to metamorphose into something completely different than their everyday lives. They often use dialects or accents and can imply much with body language and facial expressions. Many actors are professionally trained, but it is not a requirement even for professionals. Many communities also have local theaters where plays are put on to the delight of theater-goers unable to get to some of the leading venues.

The art of acting consists in keeping people from coughing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s a living, breathing thing, acting. – Frank Langella

Acting is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion. – Robert Quillen

Good acting is consistency of performance. – Jim Dale

Also on this day:

Healthy Hearts – In 1964, the first coronary bypass graft surgery was performed by Dr. Michael DeBakey.
Censorship – In 1644, John Milton wrote about freedom of the press.
Hijacked – In 1985, EgyptAir Flight 648 was hijacked.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 23, 2011

EgyptAir Flight 648

November 23, 1985: EgyptAir Flight 648 is hijacked en route from Athens to Cairo. Three Palestinians from the Abu Nidel Organization calling themselves the Egypt Revolution took control of the plane ten minutes after take off. They were armed with guns and grenades. The plan was to head for Libya but that did not work out. Instead, the tiny island nation of Malta was chosen as a landing site.Maltarefused permission to land. However, the plane was low on fuel, was having problems with pressurization, and there were already wounded passengers on board. The hijackers forced the pilot to land.

Prime Minister Dr. Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici went immediately to the airport to handle negotiations. He refused to refuel the plane or withdraw armed forces from the area. Initially, 11 wounded passengers and two wounded crew were released. Omar Rezaq, the man in charge of the hijacking, began shooting passengers. He stated he would shoot one every fifteen minutes. He began with two Israelis and then shot another three Americans. Only two of them died.

The crisis dragged on for days. The Maltese government refused offers of help from all outside forces. The US Naval station was only 20 minutes away and the Egyptians had a US Delta Force trained group ready to assist. Negotiations continued and a plan was formed. Liberation forces were to disguise themselves as the caterers bringing food to the plane on November 25. Instead, 1.5 hours early, Egyptian forces stormed the plane.

It is unknown if it was the smoke from the Egyptians attacking the outside of the plane or hand grenades thrown by the hijackers inside the plane, but 56 of the remaining 88 passengers, two crew members, and one terrorist were killed in the raid. Omar Rezaq survived but was injured. He was arrested at the hospital. He was found guilty in Malta and given a 25 year sentence, of which he served 8 years. He assumed a new identity but was found in Nigeria and arrested there by the FBI. He was brought to the US where he was again found guilty and put back in prison, where he remains.

“The world is divided into two classes, those who believe the incredible, and those who do the improbable.” – Oscar Wilde

“I would rather lose in a cause that I know some day will triumph than to triumph in a cause that I know some day will fail.” – Wendell L. Wilkie

“Trying is the first step toward failure.” – Homer Simpson

“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.” – Beverly Sills

Also on this day:
Healthy Hearts – In 1964, the first coronary bypass graft surgery was performed by Dr. Michael DeBakey.
Censorship – In 1644, John Milton wrote about freedom of the press.

Healthy Hearts

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 23, 2010

Dr. Michael E. DeBakey

November 23, 1964: Dr. Michael E. DeBakey performs the first successful coronary artery bypass graft [CABG] operation. DeBakey was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA in 1908 to Lebanese immigrants. He received his MD from Tulane University in New Orleans and joined their teaching staff in 1937.

He volunteered to serve in World War II and became the Director of Surgical Consultants’ Division. He initiated the idea of Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals [MASH] for rapid treatment of the wounded. The idea proved highly successful in Korea and again in Vietnam.

After WWII, DeBakey moved to Houston, Texas and Baylor University College of Medicine. He continued his innovative practice and groundbreaking research. He invented or improved surgical instrumentation that even today bears his name. He pioneered the use of Dacron arteries, artificial hearts, heart pumps and transplants as well as surgical improvement for the vascular condition of the heart. He has been advisor to presidents and world leaders and helped to establish the largest collection of medical literature in the National Library of Medicine.

In the year 2003, in the US alone more than 1.2 million angioplasties were performed. This less invasive procedure opens the arteries in the heart and can forestall the more invasive CABG that Dr. DeBakey pioneered. Even so, the more serious surgical procedure was performed nearly one-half million times in the same year.

“Americans spend $17 billion a year on bypass operations.” – Betty Fussell in the New York Times, December 23, 1993

“I got the bill for my surgery. Now I know what those doctors were wearing masks for.” – James H. Boren

“Surgery is by far the worst snob among the handicrafts.” – Austin O’Malley

“The practice of medicine is a thinker’s art the practice of surgery a plumber’s.” – Martin H. Fischer

Also on this day, in 1644 John Milton published a pamphlet advocating against censorship.