Little Bits of History

Down to Earth Lucy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2015
Lucy's skeleton

Lucy’s skeleton*

November 24, 1974: Lucy is found (in the ground and without diamonds). Maurice Taieb, French geologist and paleoanthropologist, recognized the historic potential of the Hadar Formation located in the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia in 1972. He formed the International Afar Research Expedition (IARE) and invited three prominent scientists to join his search. Donald Johanson (American), Mary Leakey (British), and Yves Coppens (French) joined by four Americans and seven Frenchmen set out for Hadar in the fall of 1973. Some leg bones were discovered at the end of the season in November and they indicated they had belonged to an upright walking hominid. Labeled as specimen AL 129-1, they dated at more than three million years old. This was much older than previous hominid specimens.

The team returned the next year and began to search again. On this day, a little more than 1.5 miles away from the first find, more bones were found near the Awash River. Johanson was going to update his field notes, but instead went to Locality 162 to look for bones. He and Tom Gray spent two hours in increasingly hot temperatures surveying. Johanson played a hunch and looked down in a gully which had already had two passes by other workers. He saw nothing and turned to leave. It was then he saw a fossil. He first saw a bone from an arm and then next to it, a fragment from the back of a skull. A few feet away, he saw a leg bone. The two men searched in earnest and found many more bones, including vertebrae, parts of a pelvis, ribs, and a portion of the jaw. They marked the spot and returned to camp.

In the afternoon, the entire expedition returned to the gully and began to section off the site to prepare for a careful examination of the area. They returned to the camp and a Beatles song was played over and over again that night – “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – and that is how their specimen came to be named. Over the next three weeks, they were able to recover about 40% of a female (based on the shape of the pelvis) hominid skeleton. Lucy was three feet, seven inches tall and weighed 64 pounds. She looked a bit like a chimpanzee with a small brain, but the pelvis and leg bones were nearly identical to  modern humans. Johanson was given permission to bring the bones back to his native Ohio.

Lucy’s age was determined using potassium-argon radiometric dating, but the technology had some growing up to do. By later methods, Lucy’s age was determined to be between 3.18 and 3.22 million years old. Lucy’s scientific name is Australopithecus afarensis, Latin for Southern ape from Afar. It is unknown if the species was a direct ancestor to modern Homo sapiens or whether it was just a closely related specimen. There have been other specimens found in Omo, Maka, Fejej, and Belehdelie all in Ethiopia and others were found in Koobi Fora and Lothagam in Kenya.  Lucy’s skeletal reconstruction is on display at the Cleveland Natural History Museum.

At 2.8 million years ago, this places the evolution of our genus very close to 3.0 million years ago, which is when we last see Lucy’s species. – Brian Villmoare

The new species is yet another confirmation that Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, was not the only potential human ancestor species that roamed in what is now the Afar region of Ethiopia during the middle Pliocene, current fossil evidence from the Woranso-Mille study area clearly shows that there were at least two, if not three, early human species living at the same time and in close geographic proximity. – Yohannes Haile-Selassie

Evolution could so easily be disproved if just a single fossil turned up in the wrong date order. Evolution has passed this test with flying colours. – Richard Dawkins

Uproar against a new idea, and laws to prevent anybody’s accepting it, nearly always can be regarded as a signal that the new idea is just about to be taken for granted. … they didn’t start making laws to prohibit the teaching of evolution until everybody was about to take it for granted. – Gwen Bristow

Also on this day: Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers were found guilty.
Jump to Nowhere – In 1971, Dan Cooper jumped from a plane and was never seen again.
Wilt the Stilt – In 1960, the basketball player garnered another record.
Alone? – In 1963, Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
Originally – In 1859, Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin was published.

* “Lucy Skeleton” by Andrew from Cleveland, Ohio, USA – Lucy. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons –


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2014
On the Origin of Species,

On the Origin of Species,

November 24, 1859: Charles Darwin publishes. The full title of his book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. For the sixth edition, published in 1872, the title was thankfully shortened to On The Origin of Species. Darwin’s book introduced scientific theory stating populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection. He based this on observations and data gathered during his trip aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. After his return to England, he furthered his studies using research and experimentation as well as correspondence with other scientists of the era. Various evolutionary ideas had already been proposed.

Biologist Ernst Mayr has summarized the key points of the book. Every species is fertile to produce offspring which survive to reproduce so the species can grow (fact). Despite fluctuations, populations remains about the same size (fact). Resources are limited and relatively stable over time (fact). A struggle to survive results (inference). Individuals in a population vary significantly (fact). Much of the variance is inheritable (fact). Those less suited are less likely to survive and reproduce while those better suited do survive and create offspring which is the basis for natural selection (inference). This slow process results in populations changing to adapt to their environment (inference).

In later editions of On the Origin of Species, Darwin included a history of evolutionary ideas back as far as Aristotle. Early Christian Church fathers and Medieval European scholars interpreted the Genesis creation story as allegorical rather than literal. Nature was seen as capricious with odd births between species and spontaneous creation of life. The Protestant Reformation inspired a literal interpretation of the Bible. The biblical story did not agree with emerging scientific facts. After the English Civil War, one of the Royal Society’s goals was to show that religion and science could coexist without disrupting political stability.

Darwin was not the only person working on the theory of evolution. An 1855 paper written by Alfred Russel Wallace, described patterns in geographical distribution of living and fossil species and how new species developed from the old similar ones. Charles Lyell saw the relative merits in the paper as well as how it related to Darwin’s work. Darwin had long avoided publishing the controversial work but with this impetus, he rushed to publish a short paper outlining his own theory in order to retain discovery status. Both men were permitted to present papers at the Linnean Society in 1858. There are differences between the two papers in some details. Darwin’s book was published on this date and went on sale for fifteen shillings. It has been in print ever since.

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars. – all from Charles Darwin

Also on this day: Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers are found guilty.
Jump to Nowhere – In 1971, Dan Cooper jumped from a plane and was never seen again.
Wilt the Stilt – In 1960, the basketball player garnered another record.
Alone? – In 1963 Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

Jump to Nowhere

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2013
Police sketch of D.B. Cooper

Police sketch of D.B. Cooper

November 24, 1971: Dan or D.B. Cooper makes a parachute jump and is never seen again. Cooper boarded Northwest Orient (now part of Delta) Flight 305 in Portland, Oregon. He was described as mid-40s, 5 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet tall and was dressed in a black suit with a white shirt. He sat in seat 18C and soon after takeoff handed a note to Florence Schaffner, a stewardess. She slipped the note in her pocket and the man told her to read it. It said, “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” The note also demanded $200,000 and four parachutes and listed instructions for landing at Seattle, Washington.

The pilot was told about the problem and called radio control. The FBI and airline president Donald Nyrop told pilot William Scott to make sure the bomb was real. Cooper showed Florence the contents of his briefcase. The plane was in a holding pattern over Puget Sound while the money, all in twenties, was gathered. The FBI ran all the bills through a Recordak device, taking pictures of all the serial numbers. The exact parachutes Cooper requested could not be found immediately. A skydiving school provided the chutes and at 5:24 PM Scott was radioed and told to land.

With dimmed cabin lights, the plane taxied to a remote spot. An employee drove out with the ransom and parachutes and all 36 passengers were immediately released. Only the pilot, the first officer, the flight engineer, and one stewardess remained on board. The plane was refueled and the route for escape was discussed. Cooper wanted to fly to Mexico City, but only at a low speed and altitude. When told it was not aerodynamically feasible, the new destination was Reno, Nevada.

The cabin was to remain unpressurized. They took off around 7:40 PM and the stewardess was directed to go to the cockpit. Lights flashed indicating a door was being opened. Cooper stepped into the night amidst a thunderstorm and was never seen again. Because of the storm, the F-106 jet fighters trailing the plane did not see Cooper exit. Intense searches of the area proved fruitless. Cooper, the parachutes, and the money were gone. The FBI does not believe he survived the jump. On February 10, 1980, 8-year-old Brian Ingram found $5,880 in banded bills on the banks of the Columbia River, northwest of Vancouver, Washington. The serial numbers matched the ransom money.

“Either he’s hung up in the branches of a tree somewhere and we won’t find him until next deer season, or he’s home watching us on television, laughing his fool bead off.” – Woodland Police Chief Joe May

“We’re either looking for a parachute or a hole in the ground,” – Clark County Undersheriff Tom McDowell.

“I was scared to death and pretty nervous, but I do remember seeing a red cylinder in the suitcase.” – Florence Schaffner

“All he knew was he was being taken to Reno (for refueling) on the first leg of a flight to Mexico.” – William Scott

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: The FBI continues to study the case and has amassed evidence filling 60 volumes. They have processed over a thousand “serious suspects” and most of those have been definitively ruled out. Some of the best suspects are as follows: Kenneth Christiansen who died with a hint that he might be DB Cooper, but no actual proof. William Gossett who confessed to three of his sons before he died is also a candidate. Richard Floyd McCoy, Jr. staged a copycat hijacking in 1972. He was killed by the FBI and there are some who believe the two men are the same. Duane Weber was in and out of prison for burglary and forgery. On his deathbed, he confessed to being Dan Cooper. His fingerprints did not match any found on the plane. John List murdered his family 15 days before the hijacking and his name has been linked to the latter. When captured, he admitted killing his family but denied being Cooper. Barbara Dayton, nee Bobby Dayton, claimed to be Cooper two years after sex reassignment surgery in order to “get back” at the airlines. Ted Mayfield and Jack Coffelt were both ex-convicts but neither were found to be able to substantiate claims to Cooper. Lynn Doyle Cooper’s niece thought her uncle might have been Dan, but this has not been proven.

Also on this day: Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers are found guilty.
Wilt the Stilt – In 1960, the basketball player garnered another record.
Alone? – In 1963 Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2012

Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald

November 24, 1963: Lee Harvey Oswald is murdered by Jack Ruby. Oswald was born in New Orleans on October 18, 1939; he had two older brothers and a half-brother, John Pic. Oswald and his mother were living in New York City with Pic in 1952 when they were kicked out after Oswald threatened Pic’s wife with a knife. Oswald was psychiatrically assessed at a juvenile reformatory and was found to have a “vivid fantasy life, turning around the topics of omnipotence and power, through which he tries to compensate for his present shortcomings and frustrations.” Although further treatment was recommended, Oswald’s mother took him back South and provided no more help.

By age 15, he had declared himself a Marxist. By the age of 17 he had lived in 22 different places and attended 12 different schools. Although he was an avid reader, he could not spell or write coherently. Just after his seventeenth birthday, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps. He was trained primarily as a radar operator – a position which required a security clearance, something that was granted. He was court-martialed twice while serving (once for shooting himself with an unauthorized gun and once for fighting with a sergeant) and sent to the brig briefly. He had risen to private first class but was demoted back to private and he was in trouble again while stationed in the Philippines.

He received a hardship discharge in September 1959, stating his mother needed his help. Out of the service and back home, he defected to the USSR in October 1959 just before he turned 20. He had been teaching himself Russian while in the Marines and had saved up $1,500 from his salary. He got to Moscow and they refused his offer to defect. He slit his wrist and was placed under psychiatric evaluation. Eventually he went to Minsk as a lathe operator but grew bored. He asked for re-admittance to the US via the embassy in Moscow. Before that could be accomplished his daughter was born. In June  1962 Oswald, his wife, and daughter left to return to the US.

The family settled in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and yet he was still dissatisfied with his life. He moved back to New Orleans, went to Mexico for a short time, and returned to Dallas in October 1963. At about 12:30 PM on November 22, 1963 Oswald fired three rifle shots from the six floor corner window of the Book Depository. President John F. Kennedy was killed and Texas Governor John Connally was seriously wounded. He was captured little more than an hour later and taken to the Dallas Police Headquarters. On this day, as he was being taken to the county jail, Jack Ruby stepped from the crowd, and shot Oswald in the abdomen. He died at the same hospital at his victim, President Kennedy.

And that is my definition of democracy, the right to be in a minority and not be suppressed.

I always felt that the Cubans were being pushed into the Soviet Bloc by American policy.

I don’t know why you are treating me like this. The only thing I have done is carry a pistol into a movie.

I hear they burn for murder. Well, they say it just takes a second to die. – all from Lee Harvey Oswald

Also on this day:

Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers are found guilty.
Jump to Nowhere – In 1971, Dan Cooper jumped from a plane and was never seen again.
Wilt the Stilt – In 1960, the basketball player garnered another record.

Wilt the Stilt

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2011

Wilt Chamberlain making a basket

November 24, 1960: Wilt Chamberlain sets one of his world records. While playing against the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia Warriors star player was able to amass a record 55 rebounds. This was a record for the most rebounds in a single game and was only one of the records Wilt the Stilt or The Big Dipper was able to make. He broke more than 70 records during his 14-year career. During that time, Chamberlain scored 31,419 points. The only person to break more records was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who played six years longer than Chamberlain.

Wilt remains the only NBA player to have reached the three digit score in a single game. He set that record on March 2, 1962. There have been others who have broken this record in high school, collegiate, or international games. There is a record of a 15-year-old Swedish boy, Mats Wermelin, who was playing during a regional tournament in Stockholm. He made 272 points with the final score of the game 272-0.

Chamberlain was born in Philadelphia on August 21, 1936. He reached a height of 7 feet 1 inch. During his high school years, he scored averages of 30+ points per game but did manage to score as high as 90 points in one game during his last year of play for Overbrook. He had over 200 colleges trying to get him to play for them due to his 2,252 points scored during his high school years. He played for the Kansas Jayhawks and scored 52 points during his debut game.

He went on to play with the Harlem Globetrotters (1958-59) and then played with the Warriors (1959-65). He moved on to the Philadelphia 76ers (1965-68), then the Los Angeles Lakers (1968-73), finishing his basketball career as a player/coach for the San Diego Conquistadors. He left basketball for the business world and was successful in a number of ventures. He had a history of heart problems and a week after some dental surgery, he died on October 12, 1999 in Bel-Air, California at the age of 62.

“I believe that good things come to those who work.”

“If you have ability in a certain area, why not capitalize on it and improve it and use it?”

“You must understand as a kid of color in those days, the Harlem Globetrotters were like being movie stars.”

“I couldn’t have come close without my teammates’ help because the Knicks didn’t want me to make 100.” – all from Wilt Chamberlain

Also on this day:
Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers are found guilty.
Jump to Nowhere – In 1971, Dan Cooper jumped from a plane and was never seen again.

Little Jamie

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2010

Photo of James Bulger realeased by the parents to the police

November 24, 1993: Jon Venables and Robert Thompson are found guilty of the murder of James Bulger. Two-year-old Jamie was at the mall with his mother when she left him standing outside a shop for a few minutes. Jon and Robert, both ten, took his hand and walked him from the mall. This was caught on closed circuit TV timed at 3:39 PM. The three boys walked 2.5 miles to an isolated railway bed.

On the way, the group stopped at a canal where Jamie was dropped and sustained injuries to his face and head. The group walked on passing an incredible 38 people on the way. Some stopped them and were told that the older boys were babysitting a younger brother, some were told that the small boy was lost and the group was on the way to the police. Some claimed the child looked happy while others noted the injuries and said he looked distressed. All let the boys carry on.

The older boys threw blue paint in Jamie’s face. They kicked him and struck him repeatedly with bricks, stones, and a 22 pound iron rod. After he was dead, they placed his body over the railroad tracks and weighed down his head. They thought that if a train ran over him that traces of violence would be thought to be from the accident. The pathologist was not fooled.

At their trial it was stated that both boys were from violent families plagued by alcoholism and abuse. It was also brought forth that they had been watching violent movies. They did not take the stand in their own defense. They were found guilty and sentenced to a young offenders institution at Her Majesty’s Pleasure rather than a life sentence. The minimum term to be served was eight years. Both young men were released after spending eight years in prison with life license, meaning that they will be sent back to prison if they break the terms of their release. The British government has spent about £4 million helping the young men build their lives and hide their identities after their release. Jamie’s mother received £7,500 criminal compensation from the government.

“Ah! Happy years! Once more who would not be a boy?” – Lord Byron

“We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We are the world / We are the children / We are the ones / To make a better day.” – Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

“Oh, a devil of a childhood, rich only in dreams; frightful and loveless in realities.” – George Bernard Shaw

Also on this day, in 1971 Dan or D.B. Cooper jumped from a plane after collecting ransom money.