Little Bits of History

October 31

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2017

1903: Two trains collide in Indianapolis, Indiana. Two special trains were operated by the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (also called the Big Four Railroad) and were carrying over 1,500 passengers from Lafayette, Indiana to Indianapolis. There was a heated football rivalry between Indiana University and Purdue University. The game was being played for the first time in “neutral” territory at Washington Park, located in Indianapolis. A coal train, unaware of the special trains approaching, backed out onto the main railway line. The lead train rounded a curve and the coal train was blocking the tracks.

The engineer of the special train was able to throw the engine into reverse and set the brake. He then jumped clear of the engine. Unable to actually stop the train, it ran into the coal train and killed several people in the lead car. These were mostly players from the Purdue team. Seventeen people were killed in the accident, fourteen of them Purdue University football team players. Others from farther back in the train rushed forward to help the injured. A line of horse and buggies lined up near the wreckage and carried away the dead to the morgue and the injured to local hospitals. There were no ambulances and no cars at the scene. The second train was ten minutes behind the first and many of the uninjured ran back to stop the second train keeping even more from being injured.

Harry Leslie was taken to the morgue, presumed dead at the scene. He was captain of both the football and baseball teams at the time. He was a star player and in extremely good physical health. At the morgue, as the mortician was preparing to embalm Leslie, it was noted he still had a pulse. He was immediately rushed to the hospital. It would take several operations and Leslie was near death for several weeks. He did slowly recover and returned to school a year later. He graduated with a degree in law. He gained much notoriety from the Purdue Wreck, becoming a folk hero.

Leslie went on to graduate from Indiana Law School in 1907 and opened a law office in Lafayette. He then entered into the political arena first at a local level. He also sold his family farm and bought stock in a local bank, becoming the president until 1924. He was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives and was Speaker of the House from 1925-1927. He went on to become the 33rd Governor of Indiana, holding the office from 1929 until 1933. After retiring from politics, he founded the Standard Life Insurance Company of Indianapolis. He was a great lover of comedy and was friends with both George Ade and Will Rogers. He was visiting Ade in Miami when he suddenly died from heart disease at the age of 59.

We began carrying the people out, the injured ones. There was a line of horse-and-buggies along the whole stretch there for half a mile. We didn’t stop for ceremony; we simply loaded the injured people into the buggies and sent the buggies into town, got them to a hospital. – Joseph Bradfield, Purdue student

In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way. – Franklin D. Roosevelt

There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed. – Napoleon Bonaparte

There is no such thing as chance; and what seem to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny. – Friedrich Schiller

Lincoln Highway

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2015
Lincoln Highway route

Lincoln Highway route

October 31, 1913: The Lincoln Highway is formally dedicated. Carl Graham Fisher, an automotive entrepreneur from Indiana, conceived of the idea. It was America’s first transcontinental automobile roadway and the memorial to Lincoln predated the colossal building in Washington, D.C. by nine years. Inspired by the Good Roads Movement, founded in 1880 to help bicyclists have a surface on which to safely ride, the Lincoln Highway made it possible to travel from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco on decent roads. The original path cut across 13 states. The eastern terminus was in New York and then traveled through New Jersey Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and ended in California.

In 1912, railroads still dominated interstate travel in the US. But the car was an up and coming vehicle and roadways were needed. Initially, roads were haphazard affairs “maintained” by townships or counties in more urban areas. But rural roads were “maintained” by the farmers who had the property next to the road. Many states actually forbade any road construction projects and the federal government did not get into road building until 1921. In 1912 there were about 2.2 million miles of rural roads in the US and only 8.66% or under 200,000 miles were said to have “improved” surfaces which included gravel, stone, sand-clay, brick, shells, or oiled earth. Interstate roads were a luxury for the wealthy who could afford a car and had the time to drive long distances.

But as car sales increased and more people were able to afford them, a decent system of roads was becoming less luxurious and more of a necessity. Fisher (maker of the headlights in most cars of the time and principal investor in the Indianapolis Speedway) fought for better roads. Henry Ford, largest car manufacturer of the time did not invest in the project believing government should build the roads. But other big names including Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, and Woodrow Wilson did invest. The route was investigated by a number of cars which took 34 days to travel the awful present roads from Indianapolis to San Francisco. The drivers returned by train with a route selected.

The original route, which was to be as straight as possible to limit construction costs, covered 3,389 miles. It has been revamped and updated several times since it was finished in 1916. From New York to California could take 20 to 30 days and that was if one was able to maintain the breakneck speed of 18 mph for six hours each day. At the time, the trip was thought to cost about $5/person/day and that included food, gas, oil, and even “five or six meals in hotels”. The cost of car repairs would be extra. Gas stations were still rare, and so it was suggested that you fill up at every opportunity. The roadway took off and many of the towns along the route were able to profit greatly from increased traffic. An interactive map of all the improved routes is here. It is interactive, but you need to select “Points of interest” from the menu to see all the possibilities along old and new routes.

Everyone runs into naysayers, but if you love something enough and feel passionately enough, you just go on ahead, walk right round the person saying it, proceed down the road and don’t look back. – Jennifer Higdon

A good plan is like a road map: It shows the final destination and usually the best way to get there. – H. Stanley Judd

We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over. – Ambrose Bierce

The open road is the school of doubt in which man learns faith in man. – Pico Iyer

Also on this day: “I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vowed to never return to the US.
Shooting Shooters – In 1912, the first gangster film was released by DW Griffith.
Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1923, a heat wave began in Marble Bar, Australia.
95 Theses – In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Disputation on the church door.
No Escape from Death – In 1926, Erik Weisz died.

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No Escape from Death

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2014
Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini

October 31, 1926: Erik Weisz dies. He was born on March 24, 1874 in Budapest and changed his name to Ehrich Weiss before becoming Harry Weiss and then eventually settled on his stage name, Harry Houdini. The Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer was best known for his sensational escape tricks. His father, a rabbi, moved the family to the US in 1878. They first lived in Appleton, Wisconsin and Rabbi Weiss (the family changed the spelling to the German convention on their move) obtained US citizenship in 1882. After losing his position in Wisconsin, the family moved to New York City. Locals, mispronounced Ehrich as Harry and the young boy adopted the name. He made his professional debut at the age of nine as a trapeze artist.

Harry became a professional magician and took the name Houdini from the French magician, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin after reading the Frenchman’s autobiography. After more research, Houdini learned his idol was a liar and published The Unmasking of Robert-Houdin in 1908. Houdini’s career as a magician was not very successful and so he began experimenting with escape acts. While performing with a brother at Coney Island in 1893, he met his future wife and dumped his brother as his partner and put his wife on the stage with him, instead. They got their big break in 1899 when they met manager Martin Beck who was impressed with Houdini’s handcuff stunts. With a manager helping secure venues, the Houdinis were soon playing in the top vaudeville houses in the country.

His fame and fortune spread. In each city on tour, he would challenge the police to restrain him and would escape from whatever system of shackles they possessed. He traveled the world, escape after escape, stunning all those paying customers. He freed himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets. Others soon took up the craft and so Houdini moved on to escaping from a locked, water-filled milk can. Failure would mean death and this brought in more paying customers. Ever more elaborate contraptions were built to contain the great escape artist. Challenges were arranged with local merchants in one of the first uses of mass tie-in marketing and so he would, for example, escape from barrels of beer.

While it was true that he was challenged by J Gordon Whitehead to accept blows to the stomach, this does not seem to be the actual cause of death. Houdini was struck several times while reclining on a couch (he had broken his ankle days before) and then stopped the younger man. He performed that evening. Two days later, he was diagnosed with acute appendicitis, but refused surgery. The appendix ruptured and he developed peritonitis. He died from the infection on this day. His last words, “I’m tired of fighting.” He was 52 at the time of his death. He is buried in New York City and each year, a broken wand ceremony is held at the gravesite.

Flames from the lips may be produced by holding in the mouth a sponge saturated with the purest gasoline.

My professional life has been a constant record of disillusion, and many things that seem wonderful to most men are the every-day commonplaces of my business.

Only one man ever betrayed my confidence, and that only in a minor matter.

I think that in a year I may retire. I cannot take my money with me when I die and I wish to enjoy it, with my family, while I live. I should prefer living in Germany to any other country, though I am an American, and am loyal to my country. – all from Harry Houdini

Also on this day:  “I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vows to never return to the US.
Shooting Shooters – In 1912, the first gangster film was released by DW Griffith.
Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1923, a heat wave began in Marble Bar, Australia.
95 Theses – In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Disputation on the church door.

Shooting Shooters

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2013
D.W. Griffith

D.W. Griffith

October 31, 1912: The Musketeers of Pig Alley is released. The movie is credited with being the first gangster film. It is 17 minutes long and filmed at 16 frames per second or 16,320 frames. It was directed by D.W. Griffith and written by him and Anita Loos. The short starred Elmer Booth as the Musketeer gang leader and Lillian Gish as The Little Lady. Lionel Barrymore had a supporting role.

The silent movie is about a poor married couple living in New York City. The husband is a traveling musician and while on the road, he is robbed by a gangster. Later, he recognized his assailant during a shootout. He wants his money back. The movie was shot on location and is rumored to have used actual street gang members as extras during the filming. D.W. Griffith is credited not only with starting a new film genre but of using “follow focus” for the first time as well.

Gangster or crime films are any movies involving any aspect of crime or criminal justice. They can be dramas, thrillers, mysteries, or film noir with the quintessential form being the Mafia movie. There are subgenres such as crime comedies, legal dramas, and prison films.

Follow focus is “a piece of equipment that attaches to the focus ring of a manual lens via a set of rods.” It does not alter the functionality of the camera, rather it permits the cinematographer to be more precise and the resulting film to be clearer and of better quality.

D.W. Griffith was born in La Grange, Kentucky in 1875. He hoped to be a playwright without initial success. He moved to California in 1907 in pursuit of his dream. He again failed but was given a bit part in a film. He soon began directing his own movies, the first was The Adventures of Dollie – a 12 minute silent film. He went on to direct 534 films between 1908 and 1931. In 1912 alone, he put out 70 movies. His Birth of a Nation was the first feature length film in America. He survived the controversy surrounding the movie as well as the financial difficulties associated with feature length films. He made only two sound films, neither successful. He died in 1948 at the age of 73.

“I’m not bitter about Hollywood’s treatment of me, but of its treatment of Griffith, von Sternberg, Buster Keaton, and a hundred others.” – Orson Welles

“The movies are the only business where you can go out front and applaud yourself.” – Will Rogers

“Separate together in a bunch. [And don’t] stand around so much in little bundles!” – director Michael Curtiz to movie extras

“Hollywood is a place where people from Iowa mistake each other for movie stars.” – Fred Allen

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Anita Loos was born in Sisson, California in 1889. She was a screenwriter, playwright, and author. She is most famous for her comic novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The book began as a series of short stories published in Harper’s Bazaar and were known as the “Lorelei” stories. They were satirical in nature and cast a jaundiced eye on the sexual escapades of the times with just vague hints of intimacy. They quadrupled the magazine’s circulation. Lorelei Lee was the heroine, a bold and sassy flapper who preferred the gifts her suitors bestowed upon her rather than the suitors themselves. The book was published in 1925 and it was soon followed by But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes which was published in 1927. While she wrote both fiction and non-fiction books, what she is most noted for are the many film credits to her name. She crafted movies from 1912 to 1956. She died in 1981 at the age of 92.

Also on this day: “I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vows to never return to the US.
Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1923, a heat wave began in Marble Bar, Australia.
95 Theses – In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Disputation on the church door.

95 Theses

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2012

Martin Luther

October 31, 1517: Martin Luther posts his “Disputation” on the Castle Church in Wittenberg. “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” was written in Latin and posted on the door as was the custom of the time at the university. On this same day, a hand-written copy was sent to the archbishop, Albert of Mainz and Magdeburg. This included “honorable” comments concerning the practice of selling indulgences – something the bishop was wont to do. Another copy was sent to the bishop of Brandenburg who was Luther’s immediate superior. It took weeks for copies of the 95 Theses, as it was called, to spread across Germany and another two months for the disputation to reach all of Europe.

It wasn’t until January 1518 that the work was translated by Luther’s friends into German. Then using the relatively new printing press, copies were made and the controversy began in earnest. Luther was adamantly against the selling of indulgences, or the forgiveness of sins. At the time there was a saying that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory into heaven springs.” Luther maintained that God alone was capable of granting forgiveness and wished to see Christians return to more theologically sound practices.

On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X responded by issuing a rebuttal with the English translated title of  “Arise, O Lord” and he outlined where he thought Luther was in error. Luther’s Theses became a declaration of independence of Northern Europe wishing freedom from Papal authority. This was the beginning of the Catholic Church’s loss of power over much of Europe as well as the decline of feudalism and the rise of commercialism. Some of these social changes may have happened without the break from the Church, but with one type of freedom, another was easier to achieve.

In 1517, Luther was 34 years old and he lived to the age of 62. He was a respected theologian and had no plan to break from the church in which he practiced his faith. However, he became an iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation and maintained throughout his life that buying salvation with cash was against doctrinal preaching. He was adamant about salvation coming via grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He also believed that the Word of God should be accessible to more people and translated the Bible into the vernacular rather than keeping it in the esoteric Latin of the Church. His hymns brought singing into churches and his marriage to Katharina von Bora set an example of married clergy. Luther was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned as a outlaw by the Holy Roman Emperor when he refused to retract his 95 Theses at the Diet of Worms in 1521.

All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.

Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.

Peace if possible, truth at all costs.

The Lord commonly gives riches to foolish people, to whom he gives nothing else. – all from Martin Luther

Also on this day:

“I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vows to never return to the US.
Shooting Shooters – In 1912, the first gangster film was released by DW Griffith.
Hot, Hot, Hot – In 1923, a heat wave began in Marble Bar, Australia.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2011

Marble Bar, Australia

October 31, 1923: The first of 160 consecutive days of temperatures over 100º F occurs at Marble Bar, Australia. The small town was gazetted in 1893 after gold was discovered in the area in 1890. It lies in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is known for its hot weather and may be the hottest place on earth. Ironically, there is a nearby area with specific rock formations that is known as North Pole.

These 160 days of over 100º F heat are a world record. Finally, on April 8, 1924 the high temperature dipped into the two-digit range. High temperatures are common during the Marble Bar summers as they are for most of northwestern Australia. Average temperatures for Marble Bar exceed 100º F for 154 days of the year. The only way for the inland town to get a relief breeze that lowers the temperature is for a monsoon trough to descend far enough to affect the weather. This did not happen during the entire 1923-1924 summer.

The rainfall during the 160 day heat wave was 3.1 inches and most of that fell in two short rain storms. Less than one-half inch of rain fell during the rest of 1924. The ensuing drought was devastating to the area. The highest temperatures in Marble Bar usually fall in January and February. On January 1, 1924 the temperature hit 117.5º F and it was higher still in January 11, 1905 and January 2, 1922 when it hit 120.5º F. The highest temperature occurred when 123º F was reached on February 19, 1998.

A heat wave is defined by the World Meteorological Organization as five consecutive days with maximum temperatures exceeding normal temperatures by 9º F (5º C) with normal temperatures being assigned from averages of temperatures between the years 1961 and 1990. In some European countries, a heat wave is defined as five days with temperatures greater than 77º F (25º C) as long as three of those days reached 86º F (30º C). The odd numbers are explained by the temperature in Celsius. In the US, heat wave temperatures are defined by region with 90º F being labeled as such. Heat advisories are issued at 105º F and excessive heat warnings are issued at 115º F.

“If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?” – Stephen Wright

“I was a researcher on Friday and Saturday nights, … but I spent a lot more time there. We were having a heat wave and the office was air-conditioned. They mistook me for a hard worker.” – Michael Hastings

“This is a ridiculous heat wave we’re in right now, and to contribute, Newt Gingrich said that for the entire month of June, he will stop blowing hot air.” – Bill Maher

“August is one of our hottest months. This is not really a heat wave. It’s just typical for summer.” – Philip Gonsalves

Also on this day:
“I’m just a patsy” – In 1959, Lee Harvey Oswald in Moscow, vows to never return to the US.
Shooting Shooters – In 1912, the first gangster film was released by DW Griffith.

“I’m just a patsy”

Posted in History by patriciahysell on October 31, 2010

Lee Harvey Oswald while living in Minsk

October 31, 1959: Lee Harvey Oswald, living in Moscow, states that he will never return to the US. Oswald was born in Louisiana. His father died before he was born. By the time he was 18 he had lived in 22 different places and attended 12 schools. At age 14, he was in NYC for a short time and picked up for truancy. He underwent psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with schizoid features and passive/aggressive tendencies. He was getting psychological treatment, but his mother moved them back to New Orleans.

He was not a good student but he loved to read. At age 15 he became a devout Marxist based solely on his reading. He dropped out of school at age 17 and joined the Civil Air Patrol. He then enlisted in the US Marine Corps, following his older brother. He was a radar operator for a time. He was not popular in the Marines because of his small size and Marxist leanings. He became violent and court–martialed twice with loss of rank. He applied for early discharge by falsely claiming hardship conditions.

In October 1959 at age 19, he moved to Moscow. He went to the US Embassy there and renounced his US citizenship. The KGB did not want Oswald in Russia, but a high official thought he might be of some use. He was allowed to stay and worked there for 30 months. While there he met a married a local girl.

They moved back to the US in June 1962. Oswald got a graphic arts job in Dallas, Texas from which he was fired in April 1963. Ten days later he attempted to assassinate General Edwin Walker, a vocal anti-Communist. He fled back to New Orleans, attempted to return to Moscow, moved on to Mexico with the hopes of getting to Cuba, and then went back to Dallas. On November 22, 1963 he shot John F. Kennedy. He was caught, arrested, charged and arraigned on that same day. On November 24, while being taken from the jail to the courthouse, he was shot and killed by Jack Ruby with the nation watching via television.

“I want citizenship because I am a communist and a worker, I have lived in a decadent capitalist society where the workers are slaves.”  – Lee Harvey Oswald

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

“Assassination’s the fastest way.” – Moliere

“Ordinarily he was insane, but he had lucid moments when he was merely stupid.” – Heinrich Heine

Also on this day, in 1912 D.W. Griffith’s movie, The Musketeers of Pig Alley, was released – the first gangster film.