1999: Tarzan was the first Disney cartoon film to depict a character’s nipples.
1998: The Kinshasa newspaper L’Avenir reported that lightning struck and killed all 11 members of a football team during a match in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, while leaving the opposing team unscathed.
1997: Given the vigour with which Princess Diana campaigned against armaments – against land mines in particular – it was ironic that at her funeral her coffin was carried on top of a gun carriage.
Source: Personal observation
1996: The taxonomist Neal Evenhuis came up with the name Campsicnemus charliechaplini for a species of Hawaiian fly “in honor of the great silent movie comedian, Charlie Chaplin, because of the curious tendency of this fly to die with its midlegs in a bandy-legged position”.
1995: Hours before his scheduled execution at Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Robert Brecheen overdosed on sedatives. The condemned murderer was taken from death row to hospital, where his stomach was pumped. Once his condition had stabilized, he was returned to prison and executed by lethal injection.
Source: The New York Times, 12 August 1995
1993: In 1993 there were around 40 million vultures in India. By 2007, the population of the long-billed vulture had plummeted by nearly 97 per cent, while the oriental white-backed vulture had fared even worse, with numbers down by more than 99 per cent.
Scientists eventually linked these disastrous declines to the veterinary use of the drug diclofenac. The drug was initially developed to treat pain and inflammatory disorders in humans; from the early 1990s, Indian farmers began to use it on their livestock.
1991: On his 80th birthday, in 1936, the electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla informed reporters that he wiggled his toes several hundred times before he went to bed. This toned up his body, Tesla explained, so that he would live to 135. In the event, Tesla’s toes stopped wiggling long before 1991; he died in 1943, at the age of 86.
Source: W. Bernard Carlson, Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age (2013), p. 380
1999: As the year 2000 approached, computer experts warned of the havoc that could be expected from the millennium bug. Inordinate sums were spent to make computers, in the current jargon, “Y2K compliant”. In retrospect, it appears ridiculous and slightly embarrassing, but at the time, fears of widespread dislocation of the world’s computer systems seemed plausible enough.
At the end of December, rumours spread in the Philippines that not only would electronic devices be affected, but even candles and matches. Exactly how this would happen wasn’t clear. Fortunately, getting them blessed by a priest would make them Y2K compliant.
Source: Far Eastern Economic Review, 13 January 2000
1998: Britain’s Nuclear Explosions (Prohibition and Inspections) Act 1998 made it illegal to cause a nuclear explosion:
“Any person who knowingly causes a nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for life.”
1997: President Boris Yeltsin’s security adviser, General Alexander Lebed, admitted that Russia was unable to account for 84 out of 132 KGB nuclear “suitcase bombs”.
Source: Graham Allison, Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe (2004), pp. 9–10
1995: The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the poet Seamus Heaney. The Irish Farmers Journal ran the story under a proud “Local Boy Makes Good” headline:
Bellaghy celebrates as farmer’s
son wins top literary award
Source: Irish Farmers Journal, 14 October 1995
1994: The rules of the Shell Caribbean Cup football competition produced the ludicrous situation, towards the end of the match between Barbados and Grenada, of the Barbadians deliberately scoring an own goal to tie the game, followed by the Grenadians trying to score at both ends of the pitch, and the Barbadians defending their opponents’ goal as well as their own.
Source: Simon Gardiner et al., Sports Law (2006), pp. 73–4
1993: Cats always fall on their feet.
Toast always lands buttered side down.
So if a slice of buttered toast were strapped to a cat’s back and the cat dropped from height, would the cat land on its feet or on its buttered back?
John Frazee, who submitted this conundrum to the magazine Omni, suggested that the unfortunate feline would hover, spinning, just above the ground. The buttered cat would, in fact, be a perpetual motion device.
Source: Omni, July 1993
1992: “Communism died this year,” proclaimed George Bush in his State of the Union address. One month earlier, the Soviet Union had formally ceased to exist. “By the grace of God,” the president told Congress, “America won the Cold War.”
1991: British Rail regretted to announce, on 11 February, that very cold weather would continue to cause delays and cancellations of commuter services around London for several more days. It wasn’t the amount of snow, explained a BR spokesman, so much as its nature – very dry and fine enough to penetrate the air intakes of trains and to short-circuit their motors.
The spokesman didn’t actually say “the wrong kind of snow,” but newspaper headline writers knew a good paraphrase when they coined one, so the expression stuck.
Source: Terry Gourvish, British Rail 1974–97: From Integration to Privatisation (2002), pp. 274, 613
1990: Following the murder of Liberian President Samuel Doe in September, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia tightened its grip around the capital, Monrovia. The NPFL set up checkpoints in the countryside, some adorned with human skulls, some with sinister nicknames, such as No Return.
Doe’s Krahn tribe were renowned monkey hunters. At the God Bless You gate, NPFL fighters enlisted a monkey that could supposedly recognize their common enemy – Krahn tribesmen. Anyone fingered by the monkey was killed on the spot.
Source: Stephen Ellis, The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War (1999), pp. 89, 116