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

Viscous Killer Strikes In Boston

The aftermath of Boston’s molasses disaster

1919: The Boston molasses flood of 1919 would have been comical, were it not for the resulting deaths, injuries and destruction. Shortly after midday on 15 January, a huge molasses storage tank near the Boston waterfront burst. One might have expected the viscous liquid to have oozed from the tank and to have slowly spread out to form a gooey brown lake. In fact, the molasses surged out in a wave almost as high as a house, moving faster than a man could run. Nearby buildings were swept off their foundations. People were crushed or smothered. Twenty-one died and 150 were injured.

Source: http://edp.org/molpark.htm

“One Of The Best”

1918: The epitaph to Second Lieutenant W.L. Smart of the Lancashire Fusiliers consoles us that “to live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die”. Subaltern Smart was killed on 29 August 1918 and is buried at the Mory Street cemetery south of Arras. Personal inscriptions in the British military cemeteries of France and Belgium convey immense grief and tenderness. The inscription on the nearby grave of Private T.M. Finn of the Irish Guards, killed two days earlier, reads: “I loved him in life how I love him in death”. Serjeant S. Bates of the Manchester Regiment, who died on 29 March 1917 at the age of 20, is remembered simply and touchingly as “one of the best”.

Source: Personal diary

Patriotic Mush

1916: War correspondent William Beach Thomas churned out patriotic mush for the Daily Mail. In a dispatch on 22 November, he asserted that the way the body of a British soldier lay on the ground was evidence of an innate moral superiority: “As he lies on the field he looks more quietly faithful, more simply steadfast than others.” Thomas even detected a certain modesty, “as if he had taken care while he died that there should be no parade in his bearing, no heroics in his posture.”

Source: Daily Mail, 22 November 1916

Foreign Influence

1915: Generations of Russian tsars marrying German or Danish princesses had reduced the proportion of Russian blood in the imperial veins close to vanishing point. Maurice Paléologue, the French ambassador in Petrograd, calculated that for Nicholas II the figure was one part in 128, and for the tsarevitch, Alexis, one part in 256.

Source: Maurice Paléologue, An Ambassador’s Memoirs (1923), vol. I, pp. 324–5

Last Of The Passenger Pigeons

Male and female passenger pigeons, depicted by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

1914: Passenger pigeons once accounted for two-fifths of land birds in the United States: between 3 and 5 billion birds. The wildlife artist John James Audubon, who in 1813 witnessed their autumn migration, marvelled at the “countless multitudes” that crowded the skies above Kentucky for three days in a row. “The air was literally filled with Pigeons;” he wrote, “the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse.”

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Verboten!

1913: Kaiser Wilhelm bristled at the popularity of the tango. He dismissed it as the “child of the gutter” (“das Rinnsteinkind”) and from 20 November German officers in uniform were forbidden to dance it.

Source: www.spiegel.de/einestages/
kalenderblatt-20-11-1913-a-948860.html

Deadly Shower

1911: On the morning of 28 June, a shower of stones that fell from the sky near Alexandria, in Egypt, turned out to be fragments of a meteorite from Mars. An Arabic newspaper reported that one of the stones struck and killed a dog. Hmm. Yes. I wonder.

Source: www.meteoritestudies.com/
protected_el_nakh1.htm

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

Lightning Strike

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.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/
africa/203137.stm

Chaplinesque Insect

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”.

Source: http://hbs.bishopmuseum.org/pdf/
op45-54-58.pdf

Legal Niceties

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

One Thing Leads To Another

Oriental white-backed vultures feeding on a dead cow in Rajasthan, in India, photographed by Bernard Dupont

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.

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How To Live To 135

Nikola Tesla photographed at the age of 34, a quarter of the way through his expected lifespan

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