When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

When Grandpa Was a Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

A Popular History of the 20th Century


Greater galangal, photographed at a Bangkok market by Susan Slater

1972: “The rhizome [of greater galangal] dyes wool yellow,” remarked G.A.C. Herklots in Vegetables in South-East Asia, “and it is efficacious for all ailments of elephants.”

Source: G.A.C. Herklots, Vegetables in South-East Asia (1972), pp. 485–6

Birth Of Email

1971: It was the year of the first email address and the first network email message. Computer programmer Ray Tomlinson created the first address, tomlinson@bbn-tenexa, which he then used to send the first message: “QWERTYUIOP” or “TESTING 1 2 3 4” or something similar, Tomlinson vaguely recalled – “the content was insignificant and forgettable”.

Source: http://openmap.bbn.com/

Lethal Cocktails

1970: “Drink more, eat less,” advised the Russian writer Venedikt Yerofeev. Moscow Stations, his account of a drunken rail trip across the Soviet Union, included recipes for his favourite and most lethal cocktails. Spirit of Geneva: a mixture of Zhiguli beer, spirit varnish, White Lilac toilet water and sock deodorizer. The Tear of a Komsomol Girl: lemonade and mouthwash with smaller quantities of Forest Water eau de Cologne, lavender water, verbena and nail varnish, stirred for 20 minutes with a sprig of honeysuckle. And, “last and best”, Dog’s Giblets: Zhiguli beer and anti-dandruff solution combined with Sadko the Wealthy Guest shampoo, brake fluid, insecticide and superglue.

Source: Venedikt Yerofeev, Moscow Stations (1997), pp. 46–51

Record Smashed

1968: The men’s world long jump record was broken on 13 occasions between 1901 and 1967. During that time, athletes extended the record from 7.61 metres to 8.35 metres, an average increment of about 6 centimetres. On 18 October, at the Olympic Games in Mexico City, the American athlete Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 metres, smashing the previous record by 55 centimetres.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_

Natural Causes

1967: Grigori Rasputin was murdered in Petrograd on the night of 29 December 1916. Prince Felix Yusupov and his fellow conspirators poisoned Rasputin with cyanide, shot him four times, clubbed him, kicked him, tied him up and finally pushed him through a hole in the ice on the River Neva.

After the Russian Revolution, Yusupov fled abroad and lived most of the rest of his life in Paris. He died on 27 September 1967 at the age of 80 – unlike Rasputin, from natural causes.

Prince Felix Yusupov, photographed in 1914

Source: Andrew Cook, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (2005), p. 226

Sniper On Campus

Charles Whitman, university student and sniper in the tower

1966: Charles Whitman, a student at the University of Texas at Austin and a former Marine, confided to the university psychiatrist that he often thought of shooting people from a tower that dominated the campus. Whitman “seemed to be oozing with hostility”, but other students came to the psychiatrist with fantasies about the tower, so he wasn’t unduly concerned.

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Cold War Nadir

1961: From an American perspective, the middle of April was one of the lowest points of the Cold War. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space on 12 April, and this Soviet technological and propaganda triumph was followed, five days later, by the military fiasco of the American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.

Source: Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony, Starman: The Truth Behind the Legend of Yuri Gagarin (1998), p. 142

Appease The Serpent

1960: The Mapuche people of Chile blamed earthquakes on a monster serpent that lived in the ocean and came out from time to time to shake its tail. On the afternoon of 22 May, the serpent violently shook its tail; the most powerful earthquake of the 20th century struck southern Chile.

The inhabitants of the coastal community of Lago Budi feared that it was literally the end of the world. They rushed frantically to a nearby hill, but even there they weren’t safe, as a series of tsunami swept in from the Pacific and threatened to wash them away.

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Laws Scrapped

1959: Repealed in 1959: the Barbed Wire Act 1893 (a law “to prevent the use of Barbed Wire for Fences in Roads, Streets, Lanes, and other Thoroughfares”) and the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (legislation “for vacating seat of member of House of Commons received, &c. as a lunatic into an asylum, &c.”).

Source: The Statutes Revised (1950), vol. XI, pp. 147–8 and vol. XII, pp. 428–9

Eduardus Ursus

1958: “Ecce Eduardus Ursus” (“Here is Edward Bear”) coming down the stairs “tump-tump-tump” (“bump, bump, bump”) behind “Christophorum Robinum” (“Christopher Robin”).

The Latin translator of A.A. Milne’s children’s classic was a Hungarian-born scholar who lived on a farm in southern Brazil. Winnie ille Pu was an unexpected publishing success, spending many weeks on the fiction best-seller list of The New York Times in MCMLXI.

Source: The New York Times, 18 November 1984

No Escape

Lyndon Johnson, photographed in 1964 after assuming the presidency

1957: Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson pleaded and cajoled to get the civil rights bill through the U.S. Senate. The tall Texas senator was very intense, very physical: up-close, fast-talking, his heavy arm draped around a shoulder, his “big meaty hands” grasping his quarry, “his long forefinger through the hole in the senator’s lapel”, buttonholing him “to prevent him from moving away”.

Source: Robert A. Cato, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2003), pp. 587–90, 959–60

Peak Crude Oil

1956: Geologist M. King Hubbert’s prediction that American crude oil production would peak in the next 10 to 15 years was met with scepticism, but in 1970, on cue, output reached a record high of 9.6 million barrels per day, and then went into decline.

Source: David Strahan, The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man (2007), chap. 2

Striped Stream

1955: Leonard Marraffino of New York State applied to patent a device capable of “dispensing two or more paste-like materials of different character, for example, different color, in the form of a striped stream”. A striping dispenser, he called it. That led, a few years later, to the appearance of striped toothpaste.

Source: www.freepatentsonline.com/

Nuclear Option

1954: Did the Eisenhower administration really offer to drop atomic bombs on the Vietminh troops besieging the French at Dien Bien Phu? Nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did the Americans contemplate once again using their nuclear arsenal in combat? Howard Simpson thought so. “The relevant documents remain classified,” he wrote in Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot, “but enough has seeped out through personal comments and written memoirs to suggest that such a proposal was seriously considered.” Fortunately for the men on the ground, the idea was abandoned; any attack would have wiped out attackers and defenders indiscriminately.

Source: Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (2004), pp. 568–9

Unlucky For Arnold

1951: Numerology loomed large in the life and musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg. He was convinced that certain numbers and combinations of numbers were either benign or malign. “It is not superstition, it is belief,” he explained.

The number 13, in particular, filled Schoenberg with apprehension. He was born on 13 September 1874. In 1950 he reached the age of 76 (numerologically significant because 7 + 6 = 13). Since he was born on the 13th of the month, he feared he would die on the 13th of the month.

As it happened, he was spot on. He died on Friday, 13 July 1951, at a quarter to midnight – another 15 minutes and he would have been out of immediate danger.

Source: Willi Reich, Schoenberg: A Critical Biography (1971), p. 235

Sniffy To Snoopy

1950: Charles Schulz’s cartoon strip Peanuts started with four characters: Charlie Brown, his friends Shermy and Patty, and the dog Sniffy, whose name was changed, just before the strip first appeared, to Snoopy.

Source: Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others (1975), pp. 18–19

No More Coups

1949: Costa Rica avoided the military coups that plagued Latin America during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s by the expedient of disbanding its armed forces. The country’s 1949 constitution decreed: “The Army as a permanent institution is abolished.” (“Se proscribe el ejército como institución permanente.”)

Source: www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/cs00000

Dog Lover

Mohandas Gandhi at the age of 7

1948: Balding head, wire-rimmed spectacles, moustache, shawl draped over one shoulder – Mohandas Gandhi was much photographed in his later years, which makes it difficult to visualize him as a perky youngster roaming the streets of Porbandar, in western India. His elder sister Raliat remembered him being as “restless as mercury”, unable to “sit still even for a little while”. When she took him for walks, he would approach animals and try to make friends with them. “One of his favourite pastimes was twisting dogs’ ears.”

Source: Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Early Phase (1965), p. 194

Original Computer Bug

1947: When Harvard University’s Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator started playing up on 9 September, operators discovered a moth trapped between the points of a relay. “Bugs” had bothered machines before; this was the first recorded instance of a “computer bug”.

Source: www.jamesshuggins.com/h/tek1/first_computer_bug.htm

Colloquial Arabic

1946: J. Spencer Trimingham’s Sudan Colloquial Arabic catered to the “needs of the government official or missionary in learning and speaking the language”. One imagines classrooms of clerics primly reciting Trimingham’s dialogues:

Father: What’s the matter with Ahmad sitting alone and sulking (lit. stretching his mouth)?

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Gold Rush

1945: When investigators visited the site of the Treblinka extermination camp, they found the entire area pitted with deep holes, where local people had come with shovels and spades to dig for the remains of inmates, hoping to unearth gold teeth or other valuables missed by the camp guards and Sonderkommando.

Source: Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (1987), p. 379

Papal Prejudice

Pius XII, painted by Peter McIntyre

1944: In a brief dispatch to London on 26 January, the British minister to the Vatican, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, reported a conversation he had had earlier in the day with Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Pope Pius XII’s secretary of state. Maglione had expressed the pope’s desire that “no Allied coloured troops would be among the small number that might be garrisoned at Rome after the occupation.” Not that the Holy See drew the colour line, the cardinal had hastened to explain, but “it was hoped that it would be found possible to meet this request.”

Source: The Historian, Winter 2002

Beetles Over Britain

Colorado beetle, photographed by Scott Bauer

1943: The wartime activities of the Colorado beetle have gone largely unnoticed, though they were allegedly used in a crude form of biological warfare. German planes dropped beetles on the Isle of Wight to destroy the potato crop, only to be foiled by the secret deployment of schoolchildren to round up the pests. (Though how the Third Reich hoped to alter the course of the war by targeting a pint-sized island off the south coast of Britain, and why the kids didn’t immediately blab the whole story, is beyond me.)

Source: Jennifer Davies, The Wartime
Kitchen and Garden (1993), p. 129,
but see also www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/