When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Posts by William Cook

Level-Headed

1920: Montagu Norman, the governor of the Bank of England, once confided to a colleague that he could literally walk through walls – just the sort of level-headed individual the country needed to run its central bank.

Source: Andrew Boyle, Montagu Norman: A Biography (1967), p. 87

End Of The Line

1919: On a stormy night at the end of December 1879, a dozen central spans of the Tay railway bridge at Dundee collapsed while a train was crossing. The train tumbled 30 metres into the Firth of Tay, killing everyone on board – about 75 passengers and crew – and smashing the carriages. The engine, however, North British Railways No. 224, was scarcely damaged. It was salvaged, repaired and put back to work. Nicknamed “The Diver”, it remained in service until 1919.

Source: David Swinfen, The Fall of the Tay Bridge (1994), p. 56

Eccentric Tastes

1918: Maurice Bowra described his commanding officer as a man of “much fancy and charm”, though he had “certain eccentric tastes, such as pornography”. He was an avid reader, and sometimes read aloud to his men from The New Ladies’ Tickler.

Source: C.M. Bowra, Memories 1898–1939 (1966), p. 87

Unmusical Anatomy

Erik Satie, photographed by Man Ray in about 1921

1917: The music critic Jean Poueigh congratulated Parade’s composer, Erik Satie, when the ballet was first performed in Paris, but then savaged it in print. The enraged composer fired off a series of insulting postcards. “You are an ass-hole – and, if I dare say so – an unmusical ‘ass-hole’.” (“Vous êtes un cul – si j’ose dire, un «cul» sans musique.”)

Source: Satie Seen Through His Letters, ed. Ornella Volta (1994), pp. 131–3

Body Bag

1916: Inspecting the trenches of the 9th Royal Irish Rifles after a night of intense shelling, Colonel F.P. Crozier passed a soldier carrying a bulky sandbag. Crozier was suspicious. Thefts of rations and stores from the front line had been increasing, so he challenged the soldier, “What have you got in that bag?”

The soldier replied, “Rifleman Gundy.”

Source: F.P. Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Man’s Land (1930), p. 94

“Yes. I Remember . . .”

1914: Don’t be overly nostalgic about the summer of 1914, warned Paul Fussell in The Great War and Modern Memory. And yet, in almost the same breath, he described it as “the most idyllic for many years”: a time for strolling in the countryside, a time for sipping tea at wicker tables under shady trees, a time when books could be left outdoors all night without fear of rain.

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Cop That!

1913: On Easter Monday, Labour Member of Parliament J.H. “Jimmy” Thomas’s speech at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester was interrupted by a member of the audience. Edith Rigby, a suffragette, stood up, reached into her pockets and pelted Thomas with black puddings.

Source: Phoebe Hesketh, My Aunt Edith (1966), p. 70

Standstill

1912: The Stockholm Olympics saw two epic struggles in Greco-Roman wrestling. In the light heavyweight final, officials declared a draw after Anders Ahlgren of Sweden and Ivar Böling of Finland had tussled for nine hours. In the semi-final of the middleweight division, Martin Klein of Russia triumphed over Alfred Asikainen of Finland after 11 hours, but was too weary to contest the final.

Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), pp. 673, 686

Polar Poet

1911: Captain Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition celebrated midwinter on 22 June with a slap-up meal and a special issue of The South Polar Times, to which photographer Herbert Ponting contributed his thoughts on the best way to use their reindeer-skin sleeping bags:

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National Flower

1910: The Japanese colonial authorities in Korea emphasized the peninsula’s links with Japan and stamped down on Korean language and culture. The Japanese cherry was promoted while the rose of Sharon, or mugunghwa, was eradicated because of its nationalist connotations.

Source: www.korea.net/NewsFocus/
Culture/view?articleId=75126

Suffragette Colours

1909: Mappin & Webb advertised “suffragette jewellery” in purple, white and green: brooches and pendants set with amethysts, pearls and emeralds. Shoemakers Lilley & Skinner introduced “bedroom slippers in velvet and quilted satin specially dyed in the colours”. And a certain Miss Smith, of Barnham, in Sussex, also specialised in the purple, white and green of the suffragettes – in her case, sweet pea seeds sold by mail order.

Source: Diane Atkinson, The Purple, White & Green: Suffragettes in London 1906–14 (1992), pp. 20, 21, 25

Cat Out Of The Bag

1908: Aspiring novelist D.H. Lawrence let the eugenic cat out of the bag:
“If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly; then I’d go out in the back streets and main streets and bring them in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks; and the band would softly bubble out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’.”

Source: D.H. Lawrence, The Letters of D.H. Lawrence: vol. I: September 1901–May 1913, ed. James T. Boulton (1979), pp. 79–81

Royal Disease

King Alfonso XIII of Spain, painted by Román Navarro

1907: The discovery that Leopold, the eighth of Queen Victoria’s nine children, suffered from the hereditary genetic disorder haemophilia, meant that the queen’s daughters might also carry the defective gene. Even if they displayed no signs of the disorder, they could transmit it to their children.

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Deter’s Disease

Alois Alzheimer’s patient Auguste Deter, photographed in 1901

1906: Auguste Deter died on 8 April at the age of 55. She had been a patient at the Asylum for the Insane and Epileptic in Frankfurt am Main since 1901. Alois Alzheimer had taken a particular interest in Deter’s case, and after she died he examined her brain. Alzheimer discovered that she had been afflicted by a “peculiar disease of the cerebral cortex” – the first documented instance of the form of dementia that would be named after him. (Alzheimer’s earlier medical studies had taken him in a very different direction; his doctoral thesis had been on the wax-producing glands of the ear.)

Source: Konrad Maurer and Ulrike Maurer, Alzheimer: The Life of a Physician and the Career of a Disease (2003), pp. 41–2, 151–63

Smoke + Fog

1905: During the last two decades of the 19th century, the amount of coal transported annually to London by rail, sea and canal increased from 10 million to 16 million tonnes. Each day, more than 200 tonnes of fine soot were discharged into the city’s atmosphere. In 1905, Dr. Henry Des Voeux of the Coal Abatement Society merged “smoke” and “fog” to coin a new term for the pollution – “smog”.

Source: Turner Whistler Monet, ed. Katharine Lochnan (2004), pp. 52, 236

Friendy Wendy

1904: J.M. Barrie’s circle of young friends included Margaret Henley, daughter of the poet W.E. Henley. She called Barrie her “friendy” – or rather, her “wendy”, since she couldn’t properly pronounce “friendy”. That appealed to Barrie, who used Wendy as the name for a leading character in his play Peter Pan – its first use as a girl’s name.

Source: Lisa Chaney, Hide-and-Seek with Angels: A Life of J.M. Barrie (2005), p. 217

Margaret Henley, photographed in about 1893

Tossed Aside

King Alexander I of Serbia and Queen Draga, photographed in about 1900

1903: Before dawn on 11 June, officers of the Serbian army forced their way into the royal palace in Belgrade. Alexander I was an unpopular monarch; he was high-handed, reactionary, and his marriage to a former lady-in-waiting had scandalised many. The officers had come to kill him. They blew in doors with dynamite and frantically searched the darkened palace. After two hours, the intruders discovered the royal couple in a concealed alcove. They killed the king and his queen, riddled their bodies with bullets, slashed them with sabres and tossed them into the garden.

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Death And Destruction On Martinique

Postcard depiction of the town of Saint-Pierre after the eruption of Mount Pelée

1902: Throughout the last week of April and the first week of May, underground detonations shook Mount Pelée, on the Caribbean island of Martinique. The volcano belched smoke and showered ash on the nearby town of Saint-Pierre. At 8 o’clock on the morning of 8 May the side of the volcano ripped open, and a cloud of superheated gas, ash and rock spewed out, hurtled down the mountainside and engulfed Saint-Pierre. The town and its inhabitants were incinerated. Out of a population of 26,000, only two survived: Léon Compère-Léandre, a cobbler, and Louis-Auguste Sylbaris, who had been incarcerated in the solitary confinement cell of the town jail.

Source: Alwyn Scarth, La Catastrophe: Mount Pelée and the Destruction of Saint-Pierre, Martinique (2002), pp. 112–21, 127–8, 183–9

Primogeniture

Kaiser Wilhelm II, photographed by court photographer T.H. Voigt in 1902

1901: Queen Victoria died; Edward VII became king. If, however, the throne had passed to the firstborn child, regardless of sex, Victoria would have been succeeded by her daughter Vicky. And consider this: when Vicky died, as she did just a few months later, her eldest child, Wilhelm, would have become king. Already kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm would have also become William V of Britain.

Source: The Independent, 7 July 2006

In Hot Water

1900: “Old Warren is a duffer,” was General Redvers Buller’s verdict on his second-in-command after the carnage at Spion Kop. Buller’s assessment wasn’t altered at Hussar Hill, a few weeks later, when he found General Charles Warren splashing about in a bathtub on the battlefield instead of fighting the Boers.

Source: Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (1979), pp. 322, 365–6

Deadly Charcoal

1998: In Hong Kong, a city where the majority of people live in high-rise flats, it was perhaps unsurprising that the most common method of suicide should have been by jumping from a tall building; intentional carbon monoxide poisoning was relatively uncommon. In November, however, a middle-aged woman took her life by sealing herself in a room and burning barbecue charcoal to produce a fug of the deadly gas. The novelty and simplicity of this method attracted widespread media coverage and inspired copycats. Within two months, charcoal-burning had become the third most prevalent means of suicide in Hong Kong.

Source: Psychiatric Services, June 2001

Turned Out Nice

1997: No one wants it to rain on their parade. To make sure that wet weather didn’t spoil Moscow’s 850th anniversary pageant, the city’s mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, sent up aircraft to seed approaching clouds with silver iodide as a way of encouraging them to shed their rain before they reached the celebrations.

Source: Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide (2006), p. 270

Birth Of BackRub

Q: What began life at Stanford University in 1996 as a student research project with the nickname “BackRub”?
A: The Internet search engine Google.

Source: John Battelle, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture (2005), pp. 72–6

Pedal Power

1995: At the beginning of the century, the world land speed record, set by the Belgian racer Camille Jenatzy in 1899 in an electric-powered car, stood at 105.88 km/h. By the end of the century, bicycles were travelling faster than that. Much faster. On 3 October 1995, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, in Utah, the Dutch cyclist Fred Rompelberg, pedalling in the slipstream of a dragster, set a world bicycle speed record of 268.831 km/h.

Source: www.lepetitbraquet.fr/chron38_
fred_rompelberg.html

Vaccines Save Lives

1993: Deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States: diphtheria, 156 in 1953 and none in 1993; whooping cough, 270 in 1953 and one in 1993; tetanus, 337 in 1953 and 11 in 1993; paralytic polio, 1,450 in 1953 and none in 1993.

Source: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/
pinkbook/downloads/appendices/e/
reported-cases.pdf

Corrigendum

1992: The Times of India report on 29 April 1966 that Balasaheb Patloji Thorat, from Maharashtra, had won a lawsuit that had dragged on for centuries was incorrect. The dispute had a long history, but a civil suit had only been filed on 8 April 1964. The lawsuit had lasted just over two years, not 761 years.

Source: The Times of India, 18 February 1992