When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1900s

Indoor Marathon

1909: A year after his last-gasp victory and disqualification in the London Olympics, the Italian runner Dorando Pietri returned for another marathon. On 18 December, in a race run on a coconut-matting track around the interior of the Royal Albert Hall, Pietri retired after almost 500 circuits, leaving C.W. Gardiner to win in just over 2 hours and 37 minutes.

Source: John Richard Thackrah, The Royal Albert Hall (1983), p. 152

Tetchy Telegram

1908: Violet Asquith was on holiday in Italy when her father, Herbert, succeeded Campbell-Bannerman as prime minister. She dashed off a telegram:
“How dare you become prime minister when I’m away great love constant thought Violet.”

Source: Violet Bonham Carter, Lantern Slides: The Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter 1904–1914, ed. Mark Bonham Carter and Mark Pottle (1996), pp. 150, 151

Dismal Prediction

Black mamos, depicted in Frederick William Frohawk’s The Birds of the Sandwich Islands

1907: Robert Perkins discovered the black mamo on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in 1893. He proposed the Latin name Drepanis funerea for the bird, partly because of its sombre plumage, partly because of “the sad fate that too probably awaits the species”.

Fourteen years later, in June 1907, his dismal prediction came true. “To my joy I found the mangled remains hanging in the tree in a thick bunch of leaves,” exulted Alanson Bryan as he shot and killed the last three known birds.

Source: Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (2000), pp. 354–6

Ludicrous Notion

1906: Two years after the Wright brothers had first achieved powered flight, people still scoffed at their claim. Alliott Verdon-Roe, a pioneer figure in British aviation, believed them and backed them. On 24 January, The Times published a letter of support from him, although the newspaper appended an editorial footnote cautioning that “all attempts at artificial aviation . . . are not only dangerous to human life but foredoomed to failure from an engineering standpoint”.

Source: L.J. Ludovici, The Challenging Sky: The Life of Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe (1956), p. 40

Snub For Sweden

1905: In a plebiscite held on 13 August, Norwegians voted to dissolve the country’s union with neighbouring Sweden. A total of 368,208 men – women were excluded – voted in favour of the dissolution; 184 voted against.

Source: www.nb.no/baser/1905/tema_
folk_e.html

Musical Notation

1903: The composer Leoš Janáček maintained that the melody and rhythms of simple sounds and everyday conversation provided a window on the inner self. Janáček called this concept speech melody, and applied it to robins’ song in a park, to the muttering of an old woman gathering fire wood on a river bank, even to the words of his daughter, Olga, delirious with rheumatic heart disease.

“I don’t want to die; I want to live!” she sobbed. “Such fear!” And a final sigh, “Ah-h,” which Janáček notated as two Ds, a quaver and a crochet, at the bottom of a treble clef, followed by a pause.

Source: John Tyrrell, Janáček: Years of a Life, I: (1854–1914): The Lonely Blackbird (2006), pp. 543–5

High Jinks

Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso

1902: Enrico Caruso sang alongside Nellie Melba in La Bohème at Covent Garden. Caruso was a great practical joker. When he reached the aria “Che gelida manina” (“How cold your little hand is; let me warm it for you.”), Caruso placed a hot sausage in Melba’s hand.

Source: Howard S. Greenfield, Caruso: An Illustrated Life (1991), p. 50

Russian Scientists Recover Mammoth From Siberia

1901: Russian scientists were excited by the discovery of a mammoth, frozen into a cliff above a remote Siberian river. Otto Herz, a zoologist, and Eugen Pfizenmayer, a taxidermist, were sent to excavate the carcass and transport it to St. Petersburg. Herz noted that the mammoth’s flesh, refrigerated for thousands of years, was dark red and marbled and looked like fresh beef. “We wondered for some time whether we should not taste it.” They didn’t, but they did feed bits to their dogs, who lived to tell the tale.

Source: Richard Stone, Mammoth: The Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant (2002), pp. 29–35

Speech Impediment

Winston Churchill in 1900

1900: Newspaper correspondent Winston Churchill began the year in high spirits, having escaped from Boer captivity only days before. A wanted poster issued on 18 December 1899 had offered a reward of £25 for his recapture, dead or alive. The poster had described him as about 5 feet 8 inches tall, of medium build, and had noted that he walked with a stooping gait, spoke through his nose and couldn’t properly pronounce the letter “s”.

Source: Celia Sandys, Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive (1999), p. 103

Elementary Education

1909: Beginning at the age of 15, Nikita Khrushchev attended the local school for two winters. The education was rudimentary: reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. “After a year or two I had learnt to count up to thirty and my father decided that was enough of schooling. He said all I needed was to be able to count money and I could never have more than thirty roubles to count.”

Source: George Paloczi-Horvath, Khrushchev: The Road to Power (1960), pp. 12–13

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1962 – a politician rather than a mathematician

Halibut Or War?

Prime minister and culinary expert Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman

1908: On one occasion during his premiership, an illustrated newspaper carried a sketch of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in conversation with Edward VII. The king was depicted speaking earnestly, the prime minister listening gravely. “Is it Peace or War?” the paper shrilled. In fact, as Campbell-Bannerman later revealed, “He wanted to have my opinion whether halibut was better baked or boiled!”

Source: John Wilson, CB: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1973), p. 145

Vociferous Critic

1907: Arnold Schönberg’s String Quartet No. 1 was first performed at the Bösendorfersaal in Vienna on 5 February. The concert was marred by a member of the audience hissing at the composer. Schönberg’s friend Gustav Mahler remonstrated with the man and they almost came to blows. As the man was hustled away, he shouted, “I hiss at Mahler too!”

Source: Henry-Louis de la Grange, Gustav Mahler, 3 : Vienna : Triumph and Disillusion (1904–1907) (1999),
pp. 607–9

Portrait of Arnold Schönberg, by Egon Schiele

Overwhelming Vote

1905: In a plebiscite held on 13 August, Norwegians voted to dissolve the country’s union with neighbouring Sweden. A total of 368,208 men – women were excluded – voted in favour of the dissolution; 184 voted against.

Source: www.nb.no/baser/1905/tema_
folk_e.html

Expendable Animals

1902: At the end of the Boer War, a British Royal Commission calculated that 400,346 horses, mules and donkeys had died during the 2½ years of fighting. Or as the War Office put it, had been “expended”.

Source: Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (1979), p. 607

A Death Foretold

1901: The murder of U.S. President William McKinley was a death foretold. The inhabitants of Leslie County, in Kentucky, believed that spiders had prophesied the president’s death by writing his name in their webs.

Source: Daniel Lindsey Thomas and Lucy Blayney Thomas, Kentucky Superstitions (1920), p. 277

U.S. President William McKinley

“Exterminate All The Brutes!”

1900: “To yield to the parent state the rightly expected profits” from its colonies, wrote Henry Morris, the native population “should be amenable to discipline, to regular forms of government, to reformed methods of life”. And if not? “The natives must then be exterminated or reduced to such numbers as to be readily controlled.”

Source: Henry C. Morris, The History of Colonization from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1900), vol. I, pp. 20–1

“Amenable to discipline”: in the Congo Free State in 1904 a father contemplates his 5-year-old daughter’s hand and foot, severed by soldiers as a punishment

Australian Rabbits Outfox Fences

1907: In 1859, Thomas Austin released two dozen rabbits on his farm near Geelong in eastern Australia. “A few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting,” he suggested. Austin’s “few rabbits” quickly multiplied to become millions, which destroyed crops and pasture and contributed to the extinction or major decline of several native animal and plant species.

Hunting, trapping and poisoning failed to contain the pests. Western Australia constructed 3,200 kilometres of wire mesh barriers – the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Rabbit Proof Fences – but by the time they were completed in 1907, rabbits had already got round, over, under or through them.

Source: http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/43156/20040709-0000/agspsrv34.agric.wa.gov.au/programs/app/barrier/history.htm

Boundary rider’s team at the 100 mile No. 1 fence in Western Australia in 1926

Boundary rider’s team alongside the No. 1 Rabbit Proof Fence in Western Australia in 1926

Trotsky At Work And At Play

Leon Trotsky in exile in Siberia in 1900

Leon Trotsky during exile in Siberia in 1900

1906: “It was so quiet there, so eventless, so perfect for intellectual work.” The contented scholar was Leon Trotsky and the idyllic location was the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, where Trotsky had been incarcerated. He joked, “I sit and work and feel perfectly sure that I can’t be arrested” – an important consideration for a career revolutionary.

When he was transferred from solitary confinement, he admitted that it was “with a tinge of regret”. In contrast, the House of Preliminary Detention was crowded and bustling, but pleasant in a different way. “The cells were not locked during the day, and we could take our walks all together. For hours at a time we would go into raptures over playing leap-frog.”

Source: Leon Trotsky, My Life: The Rise and Fall of a Dictator (1930), pp. 164–5

Baby’s First Memory

1905: Graham Greene’s first memory was of “a dead dog at the bottom of my pram; it had been run over at a country crossroads . . . and the nurse put it at the bottom of the pram and pushed me home.”

Source: Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps (1981), p. 36

And In Third Place . . .

Poster for the St Louis Olympic Games

Poster for the St. Louis Summer Olympics

1904: The bronze medal in the lacrosse competition at the St. Louis Olympic Games was won by a team of Mohawk Indians, representing Canada. The team lineup included Almighty Voice, Snake Eater, Rain in Face and Man Afraid Soap.

Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), p. 1159

Rough Justice

1903: Rather than condemn lynchings outright, The Commercial Appeal, a Memphis newspaper, contended that they should be judged on their individual merits. It was acceptable, for example, to lynch a black rapist, but wrong to lynch a black person who refused to be vaccinated.

Source: Thomas Harrison Baker, The Memphis Commercial Appeal: The History of a Southern Newspaper (1971), p. 206

Roosevelt’s Lithp

1902: “Dearest Mama . . . After lunch I went to the dentist, and am now minus my front tooth,” wrote Harvard undergraduate Franklin Roosevelt on 19 May. “He cut it off very neatly and painlessly, took impressions of the root and space, and is having the porcelain tip baked. I hope to have it put on next Friday, and in the meantime I shall avoid all society, as I talk with a lithp and look like a thight.”

One week later: “My tooth is no longer a dream, it is an accomplished fact. It was put in on Friday and is perfect in form, color, lustre, texture, etc. I feel like a new person and have already been proposed to by three girls.”

Source: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Roosevelt Letters: Being the Personal Correspondence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Early Years (1887–1904), ed. Elliott Roosevelt (1949), pp. 408–9

Strutting Its Stuff

1900: Can worms strut? Apparently so. At his brother’s funeral, the author Jules Renard observed a fat worm at the graveside (“un gros ver au bord”) strutting about, looking very pleased with things (“on dirait qu’il se réjouit, qu’il se pavane”).

Source: Jules Renard, Journal 1887–1910 (1990), p. 447


Illustration by Benjamin Rabier in Jules Renard’s Histoires Naturelles (1909)