When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1900s

High Flyer

Vaslav Nijinsky, portrayed by John Singer Sargent

1909: Ballerina Tamara Karsavina recounted how Vaslav Nijinsky “rose up, a few yards off the wings, described a parabola in the air, and disappeared from sight. No one of the audience could see him land; to all eyes he floated up and vanished.” Nijinsky’s leaps, defiant of gravity, caused a sensation in Paris. How did he accomplish them? Were they difficult? “No! No!” he replied, “not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.”

Source: Tamara Karsavina, Theatre Street (1930), pp. 240, 241–2

Threat To Public Health

An illustration in The New York American from 1909 pulls no punches about Mary Mallon

1907: Between 1900 and 1907, typhoid broke out in seven wealthy New York households where Mary Mallon was employed as a cook. Mallon appeared healthy enough, but she was a carrier of the disease. When she used the toilet, typhoid bacilli got on her hands and then contaminated the food she prepared. She infected an estimated 22 people; one died. As soon as her role in the outbreaks had been established, the authorities decided that she was a threat to public health, and detained her at an isolation hospital.

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Clever Primates

1906: Liberia issued a 5-cent postage stamp that depicted a chimpanzee, stick in hand, approaching what was possibly a termite mound. Why the stick? Did the chimpanzee intend using it to extract termites? It was another 60 years before the scientific community accepted that animals other than human beings use tools. Jane Goodall provided the evidence when she showed that chimps deliberately poke sticks into holes in termite nests to “fish” for termites. (If primatologists were philatelists, maybe someone would have made the connection sooner.)

Source: Nature, 4 January 2001 and 24 May 2001

Slumping Popularity

1905: One side effect of the dissolution of Norway’s union with neighbouring Sweden was a slump in the popularity of Oskar as a boy’s name in Norway – parents no longer wanted to name their sons after the Swedish king.

Source: www.ssb.no/en/befolkning/
artikler-og-publikasjoner/free-flow-of-
first-names

Ludwig And Adolf

1904: Adolf Hitler attended the Realschule in Linz, where Ludwig Wittgenstein was a contemporary. The boys were the same age, but Hitler’s lacklustre academic performance meant he trailed two years behind Wittgenstein in his studies. In September, Hitler was obliged to leave the school because of his poor record.

Source: John Toland, Adolf Hitler (1976), pp. 14–18

Job Description

1903: The 1611 King James Bible stated that St. Paul was a tent maker. Ferrar Fenton’s 1903 modern English translation, however, described him as a landscape painter.

Source: The Holy Bible in Modern English, tr. Ferrar Fenton (1903), sect. V, p. 145

St. Paul, painted by El Greco

Bob’s Your Uncle

Arthur James Balfour

1902: Who’s your uncle? If your name’s Arthur Balfour, Bob’s your uncle. During the late 1880s and 1890s, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd marquess of Salisbury, used his position as prime minister to appoint his nephew to a series of important government posts. And when Salisbury resigned as prime minister in 1902, Balfour stepped effortlessly into his shoes.

Source: Andrew Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), p. 827

Tarnished Glory

1901: Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree’s Poverty: A Study of Town Life lifted the lid on British urban deprivation. It caused Winston Churchill to write, “I see little glory in an Empire which can rule the waves and is unable to flush its sewers.”

Source: Randolph S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill (1967), vol. II, pp. 31–2

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

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