Little Bits of History

September 17

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 17, 2017

1928: The Okeechobee hurricane makes landfall in the US. On September 6 reports first came in about a storm forming near Dakar, Senegal. Reports filtered in until September 10 when the SS Commack reported the storm about 900 miles east of Guadeloupe, the most easterly position for the storm. By 6 PM UTC, the Hurricane Research Division (par of NOAA or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) had classified the storm as a hurricane. It continued to intensify as it headed for the Lesser Antilles and on the evening of September 12, the eye passed over Guadeloupe with a barometric pressure of 940 millibars and winds at 140 mph, making at a Category 4 hurricane.

Quickly moving on, it passed over Saint Croix and then neared Puerto Rico with the eye measuring 15 miles across. It took eight hours to pass over Puerto Rico on September 13 and then continued on. Passing over land usually weakens a hurricane and this was no exception. The storm was a Category 5 hurricane with winds at 200 mph at landfall, but had lowered once again to 140 mph as the storm moved past the island. The storm moved through the Bahamas and was once again gaining speed. It was a strong Cat 4 as it passed Nassau. It was hoped the storm would miss Florida.

At around midnight, the hurricane made landfall at West Palm Beach with winds at 145 mph and a pressure reading of 929 milibars. Peak gusts of winds hit 160 mph. It weakened as it passed overland, but because of its large size, it maintained hurricane status for several more days. It moved over Lake Okeechobee, and that is the name given for this particular storm. As it crossed Florida, it took to sea once again and then strengthened slightly before turning around and at 8 AM UTC, it made landfall again near Edisto Island in South Carolina. Winds were down to 85 mph by that time. It was finally downgraded to a tropical storm on September 19 and dissipated over Ontario September 21.

It was one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes of history. The storm killed almost 4,100 people overall with most of them in Florida where the death toll rose to 2,500. It is the third deadliest natural disaster in the US with only the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake claiming more lives. Katrina, the deadliest hurricane of this millennia and third overall, claimed 1,836 lives. The Okeechobee hurricane destroyed 1,711 homes in West Palm Beach with the storm surge contributing greatly to the problem. It reached a height of 20 feet and swept away homes throughout the region. The storm continued to damage properties up the eastern seaboard and the total damages in Florida were assessed at $25 million. The damages throughout the path of the storm totaled $100 million or about $1.3 billion today.

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. William – Arthur Ward

The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. – Henry Beston

To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind. – Bruce Lee



Breaking Barriers

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 17, 2015
Taisto Armas Mäki

Taisto Armas Mäki

September 17, 1939: Taisto Armas Mäki runs 10,000 meters in under 30 minutes. Mäki was born in 1910 in Rekola in the municipality of Vantaa. He was known as one of the Flying Finns, runners from Finland who dominated the event up to the late 1940s. Mäki was a shepherd by trade and was nicknaed Rekolan Paimenpoika or Rekola herdboy. He was not known in the racing world prior to September of 1938 when he won the 5,000 meters at the European Championships in Paris, his only appearance at a major championship. He won out over two more famous runners and ran the 5K distance in just 14.26.8. Less than four weeks later, he also broke the record for the 10K race for the first time with a time of 30.02.0.

Mäki broke five world records during the summer of 1939. In June, he broke the two-mile world record with a time of 8.53.2 and less than two weeks later, he took over 8 seconds off the then-record for the 5K. He continued to run impressively and finally at the end of the season, he took nearly ten seconds off his own time for the 10K race. His time was 29.52.6. World events then intervened and on November 30, 1939 war broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union. Mäki was deployed, initially on the Karelian Isthmus. In February 1940, he and another Finnish runner were sent to the US to help raise money for the Finnish Relief Fund. They raced against handpicked American runners and Mäki’s times were well below those of the previous summer. The war cancelled the 1940 Olympics and Mäki’s running career ended.

The 10,000 meter run is a long-distance track running event. The distance is 6.214 miles for those not fluent in metric and it is the longest standard track event. The race was brought into the Olympic Games in 1912 and it is also run at the World Championships. Today’s current male record holder for both events is Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia. His time at the World event was 26.17.53 in 2005 and his time for the Olympics in 2008 was 27.01.17. The women’s leaders are Wang Junxia of China whose World time was 29.31.78 in 1993 and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia’s Olympic time of 29.54.66 was run in 2008. The women’s event premiered at the Olympic Games of 1988.

Runners have slowly and consistently gotten faster. Today’s top 25 men all have times under 27 minutes. Wang is the only woman to have yet broken Mäki’s time for the 10,000 meter race. There are only five women who have broken the 30 minute barrier with Meselech Malkamu (Ethiopia), Elvan Abeylegesse (Turkey), and Meseret Defar (Ethiopia) being the other three. The Finns were able to take the gold four out of the first six times the race was run in the Olympics and garnered ten medals out of the first 18. Mäki never got to race in the event, even though he beat the 1936 gold medalist elsewhere. He survived the war and lived until 1979, dying at the age of 68.

A runner must run with dreams in his heart. – Emil Zatopek

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. – John Wooden

The will to win means nothing if you haven’t the will to prepare. – uma Ikanhaa

You don’t get to choose when opportunity is going to knock, so you better be prepared for it when it does. – Ted Anderson

Also on this day: His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I – In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton proclaimed himself Emperor of the US.
One Dam Thing – in 1930, construction began on Boulder Dam.
No Fear of Flying – In 1908, Orville Wright crashed his plane.
Animalcules – In 1683, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society.
Freedom Becomes Her – In 1849, Harriet Tubman was free.

Freedom Becomes Her

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 17, 2014
Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

September 17, 1849: Harriet is free. Araminta Ross was born around March 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland. Her parents were slaves with her mother owned by Mary Pattison Brodess and her father owned by Anthony Thompson who would later become Mary’s second husband. Slaves births were not a matter of record and the exact date of “Minty’s” birth is unknown. Minty’s grandmother, Modesty, got to the US via a slave ship and during her childhood, Minty was told she was of Ashanti lineage coming from the area of Ghana today. Minty’s mother was the cook for the Brodess family while her father managed timber work on the Thompson plantation. The slaves married and according to court records had nine children together between 1811 and 1832.

As was common among slave families, children could be sold away from the parents. A tale told within the family may have influenced Minty and her daring. Her mother threatened Brodess’s son as he and a Georgia slave buyer approached the house to take a son away. Mama threatened them with death and they left without taking the boy. Minty was left in charge of many of her younger siblings while her mother worked in the big house. Brodess hired her out when she was five or six as a nursemaid to a baby. When the baby woke and cried, Minty was whipped. She carried the scars of these repeated beatings for the rest of her life. While still a child, she was beaten by masters and suffered a severe head wound which induced epileptic seizures, headaches, and visionary disturbances.

Because of her injuries, her value as a slave decreased. Around 1844, Minty married a free black man named John Tubman. Around that time, she also changed her name to Harriet – her mother’s name. The union was complicated because any children born to the couple would be slave, since status was conferred by the mother’s condition. In 1849, Harriet was ill once again and Brodess wanted to sell her but could not find a buyer for such shoddy wares. Harriet was incensed at the conditions she and her family were living under. She and two brothers escaped on this day, just days after Edward Brodess’s death (which made the family’s situation even more precarious).

The three slaves had been hired out to another family and so their runaway status was not immediately recognized by their owner, Eliza Brodess. She offered a $100 reward for each of their captures. The brothers returned and brought their sister with them but Harriet escaped again soon after. She became an advocate for freedom and began sneaking in and out of Maryland, using the Underground Railroad to spirit her family members to freedom. Finally free to choose her own way, she chose freedom for herself and others and worked as an abolitionist and humanitarian. During the Civil War, she worked as a Union spy and a nurse. She died in Auburn, New York in 1913 at the age of 91.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.

I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say; I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.

I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. – all from Harriet Tubman

Also on this day: His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I – In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton proclaims himself Emperor of the US.
One Dam Thing – in 1930, construction began on Boulder Dam.
No Fear of Flying – In 1908, Orville Wright crashed his plane.
Animalcules – In 1683, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society.

One Dam Thing

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 17, 2013
Construction on Boulder (Hoover) Dam

Construction on Boulder (Hoover) Dam

September 17, 1930: Ceremonies are held for the official beginning of construction on the Boulder Dam (relocated to Black Canyon) and Secretary of the Interior renames the misnamed dam Hoover Dam. It was traditional to name great projects after the President – i.e., Coolidge Dam. An Act of Congress changed the name officially in February 1931. President Hoover lost his bid for re-election and by March 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt began changing the name back to Boulder Dam. Roosevelt died in office in 1945 and machinations immediately began to return the name, once again, to Hoover Dam. Public Law 43 did this in 1947.

The dam and its power plant are run by the Bureau of Reclamation of the US Department of the Interior. It crosses the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and Nevada across the Black Canyon. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Reclamation Act and engineers began their investigations into controlling the Colorado River. There were a series of devastating floods between 1905-1916. The Dam was first proposed for Boulder Canyon in 1918. It took another ten years before the Boulder Canyon Project Act, now located at Black Canyon, was finally passed. In 1931 contracts for the construction were awarded.

The Dam is located about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas (where you can pick up a Dam tour). It is 726.4 feet from the foundation rock (a hard volcanic substance called “andesite beccia”) to the roadway atop the dam. Towers rise another 40 feet. The arching construction is 1,244 feet long and weighs in at about 6,000,000 tons. It took more than 5,000,000 barrels of cement (7,500 – 10,800 barrels per day) and nearly doubled the cement used by all Reclamation projects in the previous 27 years.

It took 21,000 men (3,500 – 5,218 daily) five years to build earning a monthly payroll of $500,000. Lake Mead was formed by the Dam. Before work could begin, Boulder City had to be built to house employees and 7 miles of roadways were needed to connect the new city to the construction site. Another 22.7 miles of railroad tracks needed to be laid to bring in materials and 222 miles of power transmission lines were installed. Total cost was $49 million ($632 million in 2009 USD) and 112 deaths were attributed (96 at the site) to the construction. Maximum electric power produced by the water turbines is 2,080 megawatts or ≈ 4.2 billion kilowatt-hours in a year.

“I have never regarded the name as important. The important thing is a gigantic engineering accomplishment that will bring happiness to millions of people.” – Herbert Hoover

“The Democrats are going to change the name of the Hoover Dam. That is the silliest thing I ever heard of in politics . . . Lord if they feel that way about it, I don’t see why they don’t just reverse the two words.” – Will Rogers

“Words without actions are the assassins of idealism.”” – Herbert Hoover

“Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement. Economic wounds must be healed by the action of the cells of the economic body – the producers and consumers themselves.” – Herbert Hoover

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the US as defined by maximum water capacity. It was named for Elwood Mead, the commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation from 1924 to 1936 when he died. There are nine main access points to the lake. There are three roads leading to the lake from Las Vegas. The lake is divided into several large bodies and had a maximum length of 120 miles. The surface area covers 247 square miles. A maximum depth is 489 feet with a shore length of 550 miles. The maximum water volume is 26,134,000 acre feet or about 8,515,790,000,000 gallons. The current water volume is 13,479,170 acre feet or 4,392,201,000,000 gallons. The lake was last at maximum water volume in 1983. Increasing drought conditions have lowered water levels considerably as has the increase in usage.

Also on this day: His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I – In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton proclaims himself Emperor of the US.
No Fear of Flying – In 1908, Orville Wright crashed his plane.
Animalcules – In 1683, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 17, 2012

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

September 17, 1683: Antonie van Leeuwenhoek writes a letter to the Royal Society. His topic in the letter was observations on the plaque between his own teeth. He scraped “a little white matter, which is as thick as if ’twere batter” from his teeth, two women, and two older men who had never cleaned their teeth. He then looked at the samples under a microscope and found “very little animalcules, very prettily a-moving” noting the swiftness of their movement and the manner of the propulsion. He also noted that there were so many of these small animals that the water seemed to be alive. This was the first observation of living bacteria.

Van Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch tradesman and scientist. He is commonly known as the Father of Microbiology and is known as the first microbiologist. He developed a simple method for creating wonderful lenses for microscopes. However, as an astute businessman, he realized that he could not tell of his method or he would lose the respect of the microscope community. No one figured it out and he was able to convince others he was laboriously grinding ever smaller lenses in a time consuming manner. Even though he was able to create hundreds of lenses, no one ever mentioned this paradox. Because he was able to create finer and better lenses, he was also able to see more of the tiny world through the oculars of his microscopes.

Van Leeuwenhoek created at least 500 lenses and built at least 25 microscopes, nine of which survive to this day. His microscopes were specially constructed with silver or copper frames and were capable of magnification up to 275 times. He may have owned microscopes with even higher magnification levels, some believe up to 500 times. Although he was considered an amateur, he is noted today for several important discoveries. He discovered infusoria and bacteria. He found the vacuole of the cell. In 1677 he got into trouble with Dutch theologians when he discovered spermatozoa. He also found the banded pattern in muscle fibers.

Into each life some controversy must fall. Van Leeuwenhoek was a contemporary of Johannes Vermeer, the famous Dutch painter. Both men were from Delft, a town then of 24,000. There is speculation that van Leeuwenhoek is the subject in two Vermeer paintings, The Astronomer and The Geographer. We know that van Leeuwenhoek was the executor of Vermeer’s will. Another speculation concerning the two great men was that van Leeuwenhoek may have provided Vermeer with a camera obscura, which van Leeuwenhoek had produced. This may have helped the artist with his mastery of light and perspective. Or it may just be rumor.

Whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.

In the year of 1657 I discovered very small living creatures in rain water.

My work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men.

A man has always to be busy with his thoughts if anything is to be accomplished. – all from  Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Also on this day:

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I – In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton proclaims himself Emperor of the US.
One Dam Thing – in 1930, construction began on Boulder Dam.
No Fear of Flying – In 1908, Orville Wright crashed his plane.

No Fear of Flying

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 17, 2011

The crashed Wright Flyer

September 17, 1908: Orville Wright crashes the Wright Flyer and his passenger, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, is killed. Selfridge was the first person to die in a crash of a powered airplane. He was a First Lieutenant in the Aeronautical Division, US Signal Corps of the US Army stationed at Fort Meyers,Virginia.

Selfridge was born in San Francisco, California in 1882 and graduated from West Point in 1903. He ranked 31st in a class of 96 – Douglas MacArthur was first in the class. He was one of three pilots trained to fly the Army’s newly purchased dirigible. He took his first plane flight on December 6, 1907 on Alexander Graham Bell’s tetrahedral kite made of 3,393 winged cells. They flew for seven minutes covering 168 feet and Selfridge was the first recorded flight passenger. He also designed Red Wing for Aerial Experiment Association (Bell’s flight company) – their first powered craft.

The Army was considering buying a plane from the Wright Brothers. To demonstrate the craft, Orville went up with his passenger, Lt. Selfridge. They circled the fort 4.5 times without problem. Then the right propeller broke. This caused a loss of thrust which set up a vibration which in turn caused the split propeller to cut a guy wire which braced the rudder. The plane was cruising at 150 feet altitude when it began to nose dive. Orville controlled the glide about half way down before losing control. The plane crashed nose first into the ground.

Both the pilot and passenger were struck against the remaining wires on impact. Selfridge also struck his head against a wooden upright and suffered a skull fracture. He underwent neurosurgery but died without ever regaining consciousness. He was 26. Orville Wright suffered several serious injuries as well including fractured ribs, injured hip and broken femur. He spent seven weeks in the hospital recuperating. The Army bought its first military plane in 1909.

“When once you have tasted flight you will always walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward: for there you have been and there you will always be.” – Henry Van Dyke

“You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful.” – Paul Theroux

“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

“If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music, and of aviation.” – Tom Stoppard

Also on this day:
His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I – In 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton proclaims himself Emperor of the US.
One Dam Thing – in 1930, construction began on Boulder Dam.

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 18, 2010

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I

September 17, 1859: Joshua Abraham Norton, born in England, raised in South Africa, and immigrated to San Francisco, declares himself Emperor Norton I of the US. Norton came to San Francisco in 1849 with $40,000 – a bequest from his father. He was successful in the real estate market and had a fortune worth $250,000 by 1853.

China experienced a famine and would no longer export rice. Rice in the San Francisco area went from 4¢ to 36¢ per pound and Norton thought he would corner the rice market. He heard of a ship coming from Peru loaded with rice. He decided to purchase the tons of rice. Unfortunately, this was only the first of many ships coming from Peru loaded with rice. Norton and his financial partners fought through the legal system with Norton eventually losing the battle. He declared bankruptcy in 1858 and left the city for some time.

He returned a different person and declared himself Emperor of the US and the Protector of Mexico. He had no political power, but was treated deferentially by locals. He printed his own currency which was accepted by local merchants. When he tried to cash this currency at a bank, they refused and he issued a proclamation foreclosing on their business. He issued many proclamations over the years. He demanded political appointments be changed. He ordered a bridge to be built across the bay. He even proclaimed that the word “Frisco” be banned.

Many of the proclamations attributed to him were actually published by newspapers to make their own points. Even so, about fifteen have been authenticated. On January 21, 1867, he was arrested by a rookie policeman who thought he should be in a mental institution. The Police Chief apologized to “His Majesty.” In the 1870 census, Norton’s occupation was listed as “emperor.” Emperor Norton I dropped dead of “apoplexy” on January 8, 1880 while walking along California Street on the way to give a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Over 10,000 people turned out for his funeral.

“At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States. – Joshua A. Norton, September 17, 1859

“The insane are but grown up children, children too, who have received false notions, and a wrong direction.” – Jean Esquirol

“Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to the insane world.” – R. D. Laing

“The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” – G. K. Chesterton

Also on this day, in 1930 construction began on Boulder (Hoover) Dam.