Little Bits of History

Practical Joker

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2015
Theodore Hook

Theodore Hook

November 27, 1810: The Berners Street hoax unfolds. Theodore Hook was an intellectual and composer and for a brief time, a civil servant. He was also a great practical jokester. He was born in London in 1788 and was educated at Harrow School and the University of Oxford. His father, also a composer, loved to show off his son’s precocious musical skills and he was feted in green rooms around London at an early age. He had his first commercial success at age 16 when he co-authored with his father The Soldier’s Return, a comic opera. But he is best known as a playboy and prankster. He made a bet with his friend, Samuel Beazley, he could transform any house in London into the most talked about address in a week.

Mrs. Tottenham lived at 54 Berners Street. Hook took up residence in the house directly across the street from her. He sent out thousands of letters in Mrs. Tottenham’s name, requesting services be provided at her house on this date. At 5 AM, the first person arrived to offer his services. The maid at 54 Berners Street sent the first chimney sweep away stating they had not requested his services. A few minutes later, the next chimney sweep arrived and was sent away, and then another showed up. In fact, a total of 12 chimney sweeps had received letters asking for their services on this particular date.

But sweeps were not the only people who had been directed to the house. Throughout the day, a number of delivery carts arrived with loads of coal. Then cake makers began to appear with the “requested” cakes. Doctors arrived as requested as did lawyers, vicars, and priests. They had all been told that a member of the household was dying and needed their services. Fishmongers and shoe makers brought their wares to the house. Over a dozen pianos were delivered to the address along with one organ, brought in by “six stout men”. But it wasn’t just a host of unwary shopkeepers who were tricked.

Dignitaries began to arrive including the Governor of the Bank of England, the Duke of York and Albany, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Lord Mayor of the City of London. Berners Street became jammed with delivery wagons as well as onlookers who found the day filled with amusement. Arrivals at the house continued until the early evening hours and brought a large part of London to a standstill. Hook watched the day unfold from across the street. As the street became ever more crowded, people began to look for the person responsible for the entire mess. Although Hook was suspected, he was never formally accused. He decided it might be wise to lay quiet for a week or two before taking off to the country in order to recuperate. Today, 54 Berners Street is occupied by the Sanderson Hotel.

Every Officer that could be mustered was enlisted to disperse the people, and they were placed at the corners of Berners Street to prevent trades people from advancing towards the house with goods.

The street was not cleared at a late hour, as servants of every denomination wanting places began to assemble at five o’clock.

It turned out that letters had been written to the different trades people, which stated recommendations from persons of quality.

A reward has been offered for the apprehension of the author of the criminal hoax. – all from the Morning Post’s next day’s paper.

Also on this day: First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II called for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
No Twinkies – In 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were murdered.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – In 1839, the American Statistical Association was formed.
Hung – In 1835, the last executions for homosexuality in England took place at Newgate Prison.
Celebrate – In 1924, Macy’s held its first Thanksgiving Parade.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2014


November 27, 1924: The first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is held. During the 1920s, many of the store’s employees were first-generation immigrants and proud of their American heritage. They wanted to celebrate the United States feast of Thanksgiving and harkened back to their parents love of festival back in Europe. Prior to this, Louis Bamberger had held an annual Thanksgiving Day parade in Newark, New Jersey. Bamberger’s parade was transferred to New York City by Macy’s and the employees marched to Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street dressed in costumes. Also included were floats, professional bands, animals borrowed from Central Park Zoo and Santa Claus bringing up the end.

The famous balloons of the parade come in three varieties. The first and oldest class are novelty balloons. These are smaller and some so small they fit on the heads of performers. The largest of these required up to 30 handlers. The next and most famous type are licensed pop-culture full-sized balloons and each takes exactly 90 handlers. The last and most recent type are those which are transformed, full-sized balloons depicting works of contemporary artists. The first balloon to be included was Felix the Cat who made his debut in 1927. Falloons, a float/balloon, made their debut in 1991 with Humpty Dumpty. In 2004, the first balloonicle, a self-powered balloon vehicle, had the Weebles included in the Parade.

Also included are live music and other performances. College and high school marching bands from across the country participate in the event. The television broadcast has performances from famous singers and bands such as The Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall fame. Cheerleaders and dancers chosen by the National Cheerleaders Association are selected from a variety of high schools. The NBC telecast takes place from in front of the Macy’s on Broadway and 34th Street. Most of the “live” performances have artists lip syncing to pre-recorded versions of their work. Singing into a wireless microphone on a moving vehicle remains technically challenging.

More than 44 million people watch the televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was first televised in 1939 as an experimental broadcast. There were no broadcasts in 1940 or 1941 and then the Parade was suspended due to World War II. The Parade returned in 1945 and local broadcasting began with it. Network TV picked it up in 1948 when CBS began to show the parade nationwide. Beginning in 1952 and continuing through to today, NBC has been the broadcaster. CBS has a studio on Times Square and also carries unauthorized coverage. The first few years saw only one hour of coverage and it increased over time so that by 1969, all three hours were shown. It began color broadcasting in 1960. The show is seen across the nation from 9 AM to noon, local time meaning it is only live for Eastern Time zone viewers.

I am so excited this year getting to play the 85th Anniversary Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Everyone knows on Thanksgiving morning to get up, turn on the TV and watch the parade, so to be an actual participant is going to be fun and I’m looking forward to it. I am gonna have to put on my deer hunting gear, though, to stay warm! – Rodney Atkins

When I was just starting out in the business, I used to love to watch Lorne Greene doing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I said right then, ‘That’s what I want to do someday,’ and it’s been one dream that has come true. – Willard Scott

A lot of Thanksgiving days have been ruined by not carving the turkey in the kitchen. – Kin Hubbard

I absolutely adore Thanksgiving. It’s the only holiday I insist on making myself. – Ina Garten

Also on this day: First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II calls for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
No Twinkies – In 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were murdered.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – In 1839, the American Statistical Association was formed.
Hung – In 1835, the last executions for homosexuality in England took place at Newgate Prison.

No Twinkies

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2013
Harvey Milk and George Moscone

Harvey Milk and George Moscone

November 27, 1978: Two San Francisco politicians are assassinated at City Hall. George Moscone was the 37th Mayor of San Francisco. He was a lawyer and a Democrat who had served in the California State Senate from 1967-1976 when he became mayor. Before sitting in the Senate, Moscone was a Member of the San Francisco board of Supervisors where he was known for his defense of minorities, the poor, and small business owners. The three way race for mayor was close with Moscone beating John Barbagelata and Dianne Feinstein. Moscone and other progressive candidates were now in several powerful positions in San Francisco.

Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to a public office in California. The New York native finally settled in San Francisco after several interim moves. He was elected as Member of the Board of Supervisors and began his term on January 8, 1978. His short time in office was marked by the passage of gay rights ordinances for the city. Peter Novak of the University of San Francisco has called Milk “a martyr for gay rights.” Miami had passed an ordinance making discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. The law was repealed and gay rights took a step backwards. Milk fought to make sexual orientation a protected issue.

Dan White was elected at the same time as Milk. The San Francisco native was also on the Board of Supervisors. The Vietnam veteran worked as a police officer and firefighter before being elected to the Board. He quit on November 10, 1978. He said he could not raise a family on the low pay ($9,600) and was disgusted by the corruption of the inner circle of San Francisco politics. On November 14 he wanted to “un-quit” and Moscone was initially willing to allow him back. White snuck into City Hall with a loaded gun and begged the mayor for his job back. When denied, he killed Moscone and then went to Milk’s office and shot him five times.

White went to his old police station and turned himself in. He was brought to trial on first degree murder charges. He was eligible for the death penalty. The media alluded to his habit of eating junk food and thus the “Twinkie defense” was born. This is inaccurate. The defense based their case on White’s depression which led to diminished capacity. They claimed he could not have premeditated his crime, so he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was paroled from prison in 1984. He confessed to the premeditation of his original crime and volunteered he had planned to kill two more people besides. He committed suicide on October 21, 1985.

“All over the country, they’re reading about me, and the story doesn’t center on me being gay. It’s just about a gay person who is doing his job.”

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

“It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.”

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” – all from Harvey Milk

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Harvey Milk was born in Woodmere, New York in 1930. He was not politically motivated until he reached his 40s. He joined the gay men’s migration to San Francisco in 1972 and settled in the Castro District. He entered into the political arena by using both the economic and political power of his neighborhood. He ran unsuccessfully for office three times. He was able to build coalitions and helped unite the voters. As the political climate of San Francisco changed over the years, his bid for office became viable and he was finally able to be elected in 1977. Although he only served for eleven months, he became an icon for the San Francisco political machine and a martyr for the gay rights movement. He was said to be a visionary and worked diligently for a bias free society. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Also on this day: First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II calls for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – In 1839, the American Statistical Association was formed.
Hung – In 1835, the last executions for homosexuality in England took place at Newgate Prison.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2012

Newgate Prison

November 27, 1835: There is a double hanging at Newgate Prison in London. Newgate’s first prison was built in 1188 at the behest of King Henry II. It is just inside the City of London at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey. Before it was a prison site, it was an actual gate site of the Roman London Wall. As a prison, it has been extended many times over the centuries. It was demolished and rebuilt in 1777 and remained in use as a prison until 1902. On this date, John Smith and John Pratt were hanged after a conviction of sodomy. This was the last execution for homosexuality brought on by the English judicial system. They were not, however, the last homosexual men to be persecuted by onerous laws either in England or elsewhere in the world.

Homosexuality is the romantic or sexual interest between two members of the same sex. It is one of three main categories of sexual orientation – the other two being bisexuality (affinity for both sexes) and heterosexuality (affinity for members of the other sex). Asexuality is sometimes considered to be a fourth orientation and refers to people uninterested in sex at all. The term “homosexuality” is a mixture of Roman and Greek usage with the homo from the Greek, mean “same” rather than the Roman meaning “man” and homosexuality can refer to people of either gender. In today’s colloquial usage, “gay” refers to homosexual men while women are referred to as lesbians.

Attitudes toward sexuality have changed with time and place and have undergone shifts in acceptance or disregard. Same-sex relationships have at times been held in high esteem and in others, as in the time of the Newgate Prison hangings, been held as not only out of favor, but downright criminal. At one time, homosexuality was seen as a disease and participants were treated to “cures” for this diagnosis. Psychology was the first field of study that identified homosexuality as a discreet entity. But there is a range of sexual orientation and humans find themselves placed somewhere in that range. There is no consensus at this point in time as to what actually causes one to land on any certain point of that continuum, in other words, we don’t know what causes any sexual orientation.

Reliable data about the demographics of sexual orientation are essential when forming any public policy. However, some area of the globe still see homosexuality as an abomination and will punish “offenders” for this behavior. As less stigma is attached to the label, rates of admitted homosexuality have risen. Some people who have had some same-sex encounters still do not label themselves as homosexuals. But with many people given an anonymous chance to admit to same-sex ideation, there may be many more bisexuals than we had previously thought. Luckily, at least in many parts of the world, they are free to date whomever they wish.

Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands? – Ernest Gaines

Homosexuality is god’s way of insuring that the truly gifted aren’t burdened with children. – Sam Austin

If homosexuality is a disease, let’s all call in queer to work:  “Hello.  Can’t work today, still queer.” – Robin Tyler

There is nothing wrong with going to bed with someone of your own sex.  People should be very free with sex, they should draw the line at goats. – Elton John

Also on this day:

First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II calls for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
No Twinkies – In 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were murdered.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics – In 1839, the American Statistical Association was formed.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2011

American Statistical Association logo

November 27, 1839: The American Statistical Association (ASA) is formed in Boston, Massachusetts. It is the second oldest continually operating professional society in the US. A meeting held at the American Education Society found five influential men wanting a new organization to help further statistical science. Richard Fletcher was elected the first President and Lemuel Shattuck was named the first Secretary. The latter was the driving force behind the young society.

At the first annual meeting held in February 1840, the name of the Society changed to the Association designation and it has remained as such since that time. There have been many distinguished people who belonged to the group. Florence Nightingale, Alexander Graham Bell, Herman Hollerith, Andrew Carnegie, and Martin Van Buren were all members at one time.

Since the beginning, the ASA has had a close relationship with the US government and especially the US Bureau of the Census. In 1844, the ASA petitioned for a revision of the Sixth Census to generate more accurate data. Many of the early Censuses were led by members of the ASA. In fact, the first permanent director of the census office was S.N.D. North, the sixth president of the ASA. The current director, Robert Groves, is also an ASA member.

The ASA’s mission is six-fold. They 1) support excellence in statistical practice, research, journals, and meetings. 2) work for improvement of statistical education at all levels. 3) promote the proper application of statistics. 4) anticipate and meet member needs 5) use the discipline of statistics to enhance human welfare. and 6) seek opportunities to advance the statistical profession.

There are currently about 18,000 members in the ASA. Many of them can be found in government, education, and the private sector. The ASA is involved in a variety of projects throughout the US and in 90 countries where they are active. They wish to provide a path to improvement in the sciences, ranging from biological to socio-economic to the physical sciences. They are guided by ethical guidelines addressing eight topic areas. They publish a variety of journals, magazines, and books along with conference proceedings – all to keep their membership and the world at large informed.

“An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than for illumination.” – Andrew Lang

“Be able to analyze statistics, which can be used to support or undercut almost any argument.” – Marilyn vos Savant

“Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.” – Stanley Marcus

“Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable.” – Mark Twain

Also on this day:
First Crusade – In 1095, Pope Urban II calls for European princes to rescue the Holy Lands from desecration by the infidels.
No Twinkies – In 1978, Harvey Milk and George Moscone were murdered.

First Crusade

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 27, 2010

The Siege of Antioch, a medieval miniature painting done in 1490 by Sébastien Mamerot

November 27, 1095: Pope Urban II, in a speech given at the Council of Clermont in France, calls for Christian princes in Europe to rescue the Holy Lands, especially Jerusalem, from the Turks. Muslims had ruled Jerusalem since 638 but had allowed Christian pilgrims access to the Holy City. By the 11th century Seljuk Turks had taken over rule in the area and Christians were no longer given free passage to Jerusalem, nor safety while in pilgrimage.

There were several Crusades to free the Holy City from Muslim control. They are arbitrarily divided into anywhere from seven to twelve waves. The dates given are definite in the starting point with 1095 the beginning, ending dates vary. Usually the end of the 13th century is given, however Crusades continued with the last in 1669 by the Duke of Burgundy from Candia.

The First Crusade was divided into three waves. The People’s Crusade in which 100,000 peasants and lowly knights were led by the charismatic and inflammatory Peter the Hermit of Amiens. These peasants fought along the way with about one-quarter dying in battles before reaching the Holy Lands where the rest died in unskilled fighting. The German Crusade was marred by the anti-Semitism that was already a part of life. They enacted pogroms against both resident Jews and Muslims, to the Pope’s dismay. The Princes Crusade was a group of 7,000 titled men who came without supplies to fight in the desert where many died of heat and thirst. The 1,500 survivors made their way to Jerusalem where they took control of the city in 1099 by murdering or capturing nearly all the inhabitants.

The Crusades overall were unsuccessful. They did not take lasting control of the Holy Lands, they increased the antipathy between Latin and Greek Christians and actually brought about the disintegration of the Eastern Empire, they were marred by anti-Semitism, and they fostered the hatred between Christian and Muslim that lives on to this day.

“The fruits of Christianity were religious wars, butcheries, crusades, inquisitions, extermination of the natives of America and the introduction of African slaves in their place.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

“[Erdmann argued that, in proclaiming the First Crusade, Pope Urban II was less interested in restoring the rights of Christians to make pilgrimages to the Holy Sepulchre than in unleashing] an ecclesiastical-knightly war upon heathens … the conceptual change from armed pilgrim to soldier for the faith took place.” – Henry IV

“There are telltale signs about an extremist. When critics start speaking of a Zionist conspiracy, a Christian crusade, and when those things justify violence, that’s scary stuff.” – Muqtedar Khan

“God himself will lead them, for they will be doing His work. There will be absolution and remission of sins for all who die in the service of Christ. Here they are poor and miserable sinners; there they will be rich and happy. Let none hesitate; they must march next summer. God wills it!” – Pope Urban II

Also on this day, in 1978 George Mascone and Harvey Milk were murdered.

Tagged with: ,