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

Reckless Driving

1988: The tradition whereby the victor in French presidential elections granted an amnesty for recent traffic offences led inadvertently to motorists driving with particular abandon in the months immediately before voting. Greater recklessness meant more road accidents; more road accidents meant more casualties. This was particularly noticeable before the presidential election of April and May 1988. In the last seven months of 1987 and 1988 the number of deaths on France’s roads were almost identical – 6,436 and 6,400 – but the figures for the first five months of each year were 3,425 and 4,077 – an increase of 652 deaths, almost one-fifth, during election year.

Source: Claude Got, La Violence Routière: Les Mensonges Qui Tuent (2008), pp. 57–64

Propitious Moment For Signing

Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and American President Ronald Reagan sign a missile treaty in the East Room of the White House on 8 December 1987

1987: The high point of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to Washington was the signing, with his American counterpart, Ronald Reagan, of a treaty on intermediate-range missiles. The ceremony took place on 8 December, at quarter to two in the afternoon. The White House was strangely insistent about the timing; it transpired that a Californian astrologer had advised Nancy Reagan (star sign Cancer) of the precise time that her husband (Aquarius) and Gorbachev (Pisces) should sign the agreement.

Source: Christopher Andrew, For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush (1995), p. 498

Almost Unbeatable

1986: Between 1980 and his retirement from the sport in 1993, Jahangir Khan dominated squash. The Pakistani player won approximately 825 professional matches and lost 29; he won the British Open 10 times and the World Open six times. His defeat in the final of the World Open in November 1986 was the first time he had lost a match for 5½ years.

Source: Rod Gilmour and Alan Thatcher, Jahangir Khan 555: The Untold Story behind Squash’s Invincible Champion and Sport’s Greatest Unbeaten Run (2016), chap. 9

Nasty New Meaning

1985: In South African townships, the word “necklace” took on a nasty new meaning. No longer referring exclusively to an item of women’s jewellery, from 1985 onwards it also began to mean a rubber tyre forced over the head and shoulders of a collaborator, an informer or a policeman, doused in petrol, and set on fire, resulting in a slow and painful death.

Source: Violence in South Africa: A Variety of Perspectives, ed. Elirea Bornman, René van Eeden and Marie Wentzel (1998), chap. 6

Instead Of A Tip

1984: Phyllis Penzo had worked at Sal’s Pizzeria, in the Yonkers suburb of New York, for 24 years. Since the late 1970s, police detective Robert Cunningham had been a regular customer. They were good friends.

One night, after his usual meal of linguine with clam sauce, Cunningham got Penzo to help him pick the numbers for a $1 state lottery ticket. Instead of tipping the waitress, Cunningham promised her half the prize money if they won.

When the lottery was drawn on 31 March, theirs were the only winning numbers: 7, 9, 21, 28, 29 and 43, with 35 as a supplementary number.

Penzo’s “tip” turned out to be worth $3 million.

Source: The New York Times, 3 April 1984

No Exceptions

American writer William Saroyan

1981: Despite doubting the veracity of “last sayings”, which he regarded as mostly “inventions of the survivors, members of the family, exploiters of truth and falsity”, the American author William Saroyan offered his own contribution shortly before prostate cancer killed him: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”

Source: Lawrence Lee and Barry Gifford, Saroyan: A Biography (1984), p. 307

Claim To Fame

1978: The popularity of the Golden Gate Bridge with would-be suicides has been attributed to the bridge’s fame, to copycat behaviour, to the likelihood that a leap from the bridge will be fatal (very few people survive the impact with the water far below), and to the ease with which those intent on suicide can get over the bridge’s guard rails (which are little more than waist-high).

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Space Ambitions

1977: President Mobutu Sésé Seko intended that the launch, on 17 May, of a rocket from Shaba province, in eastern Zaïre, would set the country on course to join the select club of space nations. The rocket, designed and built by the West German company OTRAG as an inexpensive alternative to NASA and European Space Agency rockets, reached an altitude of 20 kilometres. But any hopes that Shaba would become the Cape Canaveral of Africa, putting satellites into orbit at cut-rate prices, received a severe setback a year later, when another rocket crashed immediately after takeoff, directly in front of the country’s watching president.

Source: David van Reybrouck, Congo: The Epic History of a People (2014), pp. 365–7, 369–70

Greater Gravitas

1975: Margaret Thatcher worked hard to improve her public speaking skills. Analysis of recordings showed that over a decade she succeeded in lowering the pitch of her voice by about 60 hertz, which made her sound more assertive, gave her more gravitas. She had less success with the tone of her voice. Even at the end of her political career it still sounded (to use Clive James’s description) like a “condescending explanatory whine” that treated the person on the receiving end as if they were “an eight-year-old child with personality deficiencies”.

Source: Anne Karpf, The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent (2006), pp. 226–9

Tom Swift And Taser

1974: Inventor Jack Cover secured a patent for a “weapon for subduing and constraining” that consisted of a projectile “connected by means of a relatively fine, conductive wire to a launcher which contains an electrical power supply”. Cover called his stun gun a Taser, an acronym he derived from one of his favourite childhood books, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.

Source: Los Angeles Times, 13 February 2009

Gusty In Greenland

1972: A storm that battered the Thule area of Greenland on 8 and 9 March produced winds gusting to 333 km/h, which broke both the meteorological record for peak wind speed at low altitude and the anemometer measuring them.

Source: www.557weatherwing.af.mil/
News/Features/Display/Article/
872212/two-of-thules-extreme-storms/

Blood Type

1971: The journalist Nomi Masahiko wasn’t the first to suggest that blood type influences personality, but the popularity of his book Understanding Affinity by Blood Type gave the theory a big boost in Japan. People with type A blood – so the theory goes – are sensible but stubborn; those with type B are creative but selfish; type ABs are sociable but indecisive; and Os are optimistic but arrogant.

Source: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-
20170787

Brotherly Love

1968: When Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, Edward, the last of the four Kennedy brothers, delivered the eulogy.

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

Source: https://americanrhetoric.com/
speeches/ekennedytributetorfk.html

Lengthy Litigation

1966: On 29 April, The Times of India reported that Balasaheb Patloji Thorat, of Hingangaon, in Maharashtra, secured victory in a lawsuit over the rights to preside at religious and public functions. What made this minor legal squabble newsworthy was that litigation had been initiated by one of Patloji Thorat’s ancestors, umpteen generations earlier, in 1205. The Guinness Book of Records picked up the story and acknowledged the lawsuit to be the most protracted in legal history.

Source: The Times of India, 29 April 1966

Mumbo-Jumbo

1965: Towards the end of Clement Attlee’s life, the biographer Kenneth Harris questioned him about religion. What were his feelings towards Christianity and God and Christ and life after death?

“Believe in the ethics of Christianity,” replied the former prime minister, in typically terse fashion. “Can’t believe the mumbo-jumbo.”

Source: Kenneth Harris, Attlee (1984), pp. 563–4

Nothingness

Grave of Ozu Yasujirō, in Kamakura, Japan, photographed by Tarourashima

1963: Ozu Yasujirō, the Japanese film-maker who directed Tokyo Story, died of cancer on the evening of his 60th birthday. His ashes were buried in the grounds of Engaku temple in Kamakura, beneath a tombstone that bears no name, no dates, no lengthy inscription, just a single character:

which means “nothingness”.

Source: Donald Richie, Ozu (1974), p. 252

Self-Mutilation

1959: During the three years he was incarcerated in Soviet prisons, Felix Yaroshevsky worked as a surgeon. He came across many cases of self-mutilation among his fellow inmates: veins slashed; fingers and toes lopped off; buttons sewn on bodies; and one instance of a youth who urinated on his feet and put them through a broken window to expose them to the freezing January air, resulting in severe frostbite.

Source: Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal, October 1975

“Aromatic Osmosis”

Pope Pius XII, photographed by Michael Pitcarin

1958: Pius XII died on 9 October. Despite a lack of expertise, the papal physician Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi was entrusted with embalming the pope’s body. Galeazzi-Lisi resorted to “aromatic osmosis”, an embalming technique developed by the plastic surgeon Oreste Nuzzi, whereby pungent fluids were sprinkled on the clothing and absorbed by osmosis.

The Vatican’s trust in Galeazzi-Lisi and Galeazzi-Lisi’s trust in Nuzzi’s method were misplaced. If anything, Galeazzi-Lisi’s efforts speeded up the process of decomposition. The pontiff’s appearance visibly deteriorated while still lying in state, and those on vigil near the bier found that their eyes “smarted and watered”.

Source: Robert A. Ventresca, Soldier of Christ: The Life of Pope Pius XII (2013), pp. 300–3