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

Unlucky For Arnold

1951: Numerology loomed large in the life and musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg. He was convinced that certain numbers and combinations of numbers were either benign or malign. “It is not superstition, it is belief,” he explained.

The number 13, in particular, filled Schoenberg with apprehension. He was born on 13 September 1874. In 1950 he reached the age of 76 (numerologically significant because 7 + 6 = 13). Since he was born on the 13th of the month, he feared he would die on the 13th of the month.

As it happened, he was spot on. He died on Friday, 13 July 1951, at a quarter to midnight – another 15 minutes and he would have been out of immediate danger.

Source: Willi Reich, Schoenberg: A Critical Biography (1971), p. 235

Sniffy To Snoopy

1950: Charles Schulz’s cartoon strip Peanuts started with four characters: Charlie Brown, his friends Shermy and Patty, and the dog Sniffy, whose name was changed, just before the strip first appeared, to Snoopy.

Source: Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others (1975), pp. 18–19

No More Coups

1949: Costa Rica avoided the military coups that plagued Latin America during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s by the expedient of disbanding its armed forces. The country’s 1949 constitution decreed: “The Army as a permanent institution is abolished.” (“Se proscribe el ejército como institución permanente.”)

Source: www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/cs00000
_.html

Dog Lover

Mohandas Gandhi at the age of 7

1948: Balding head, wire-rimmed spectacles, moustache, shawl draped over one shoulder – Mohandas Gandhi was much photographed in his later years, which makes it difficult to visualize him as a perky youngster roaming the streets of Porbandar, in western India. His elder sister Raliat remembered him being as “restless as mercury”, unable to “sit still even for a little while”. When she took him for walks, he would approach animals and try to make friends with them. “One of his favourite pastimes was twisting dogs’ ears.”

Source: Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Early Phase (1965), p. 194

Original Computer Bug

1947: When Harvard University’s Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator started playing up on 9 September, operators discovered a moth trapped between the points of a relay. “Bugs” had bothered machines before; this was the first recorded instance of a “computer bug”.

Source: www.jamesshuggins.com/h/tek1/first_computer_bug.htm

Colloquial Arabic

1946: J. Spencer Trimingham’s Sudan Colloquial Arabic catered to the “needs of the government official or missionary in learning and speaking the language”. One imagines classrooms of clerics primly reciting Trimingham’s dialogues:

Father: What’s the matter with Ahmad sitting alone and sulking (lit. stretching his mouth)?

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Gold Rush

1945: When investigators visited the site of the Treblinka extermination camp, they found the entire area pitted with deep holes, where local people had come with shovels and spades to dig for the remains of inmates, hoping to unearth gold teeth or other valuables missed by the camp guards and Sonderkommando.

Source: Yitzhak Arad, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps (1987), p. 379

Papal Prejudice

Pius XII, painted by Peter McIntyre

1944: In a brief dispatch to London on 26 January, the British minister to the Vatican, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, reported a conversation he had had earlier in the day with Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Pope Pius XII’s secretary of state. Maglione had expressed the pope’s desire that “no Allied coloured troops would be among the small number that might be garrisoned at Rome after the occupation.” Not that the Holy See drew the colour line, the cardinal had hastened to explain, but “it was hoped that it would be found possible to meet this request.”

Source: The Historian, Winter 2002

Beetles Over Britain

Colorado beetle, photographed by Scott Bauer

1943: The wartime activities of the Colorado beetle have gone largely unnoticed, though they were allegedly used in a crude form of biological warfare. German planes dropped beetles on the Isle of Wight to destroy the potato crop, only to be foiled by the secret deployment of schoolchildren to round up the pests. (Though how the Third Reich hoped to alter the course of the war by targeting a pint-sized island off the south coast of Britain, and why the kids didn’t immediately blab the whole story, is beyond me.)

Source: Jennifer Davies, The Wartime
Kitchen and Garden (1993), p. 129,
but see also www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/
spru/hsp/documents/CWCB33-Garrett.
pdf

Truth And Lies

1941: William Marston claimed that, while still a psychology student at Harvard, he had been the first person to measure blood pressure as a means of lie detection. Throughout the 1920s and ’30s he lobbied unsuccessfully for the use of the polygraph in court cases. In 1941 he created the comic-book heroine Wonder Woman, who used a magic lasso to ensnare criminals and to extract confessions.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Polygraph

Cannon Fodder

1940: The American broadcaster William Shirer found it difficult to read the minds of Berliners thronging the Unter den Linden on Easter Sunday afternoon. “Their faces looked blank. Obviously they do not like the war, but they will do what they’re told. Die, for instance.”

Source: William L. Shirer, Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934–1941 (1941), p. 241

Cure For Sleepiness

1939: Straight-talking Winston Churchill went down well with wireless listeners. Two millworkers overheard in conversation in Bolton:
MW1: “Ah bet tha heard Churchill.”
MW2: “Aye – I did.”
MW1: “He doesn’t half give it them. I corn’t go to sleep when he’s on.”

Source: Tom Harrisson and Charles Madge, War Begins at Home (1940), p. 158

Singed Eyebrows

1938: In dense cloud over the south of France, a ball of lightning entered the open cockpit window of a B.O.A.C. flying boat, singed the captain’s eyebrows and hair, burned a hole in his seat belt, and then meandered harmlessly through the forward passenger cabin into the rear cabin, where it burst with a loud explosion.

Source: Nature, 5 April 1952

Spanish Shibboleth

1937: At the beginning of October, President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic ordered his soldiers to round up Haitians living on the Dominican side of the border between the two countries. To distinguish between Creole-speaking Haitians and Spanish-speaking Dominicans, the soldiers would hold up a sprig of parsley and ask, What is this? Those who could not roll the “r” of the Spanish word “perejil” gave themselves away as Haitians.

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Young Maggie

1936: Margaret Roberts was a pupil at Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School from autumn 1936 until summer 1943. Her nickname – years before “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” and “The Iron Lady” – was “Snobby Roberts”.

Source: Biographical Dictionary of British Prime Ministers, ed. Robert Eccleshall and Graham Walker (1998), p. 361

Culture Shock

Pearl Buck, photographed by Arnold Genthe

1934: Pearl Buck had lived so long in China that on her return to America she found she was a foreigner in her own country. Like most Chinese, Buck ate little meat and avoided dairy products altogether. She quickly noticed that white Americans smelled. The milk, butter and beef they consumed gave them “a rank wild odor, not quite a stink, but certainly distressing”.

Source: Pearl S. Buck, My Several Worlds: A Personal Record (1955), p. 315

Down On The Farm

1933: Heinrich Himmler often took his daughter Gudrun to visit Dachau. Gudrun was especially fond of the camp’s farm for breeding Angora rabbits.

Source: Harold Marcuse, Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp, 1933–2001 (2001), p. 30

Vulgar Wailing

1932: “Ravel’s Bolero I submit as the most insolent monstrosity ever perpetrated in the history of music. From the beginning to the end of its 339 measures it is simply the incredible repetition of the same rhythm,” scoffed Edward Robinson in The American Mercury. The main theme, he wrote, was “an overwhelmingly vulgar cabaret tune”, little different from “the wail of an obstreperous back-alley cat”.

Source: Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective: Critical Assaults on Composers Since Beethoven’s Time (2000), p. 138

Hot Pants

1931: On 12 August, the Hawera Star surprised readers with a story about exploding trousers. Richard Buckley, a local farmer, had placed his wet trousers in front of the fire to dry. As they warmed up, they “exploded with a loud report”.

Buckley’s trousers weren’t the only combustible clothing. Elsewhere in New Zealand, a load of laundry burst into flames on a washing line and a farmer’s trousers began to smoulder while he was actually wearing them.

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Quiet News Day

1930: The BBC had a narrow view of what was newsworthy and what wasn’t. If an item didn’t come up to the required standard, it wasn’t broadcast. No effort was made to pad out news bulletins to a standard length. On 18 April, a quiet news day, the BBC announcer simply declared, “There is no news tonight.”

Source: Paddy Scannell and David Cardiff, A Social History of British Broadcasting, I: 1922–1939, Serving the Nation (1991), p. 118

Engine Coolant

1928: A motor track was constructed from the Persian Gulf through the foothills of the Zagros to Gach Sārān, where, in that same year, oil was discovered in large quantities.

The rugged road and sizzling temperatures were too much for most vehicles. Engines overheated and took hours to cool. Only one lorry could overcome the terrain and the heat; while the others panted and wheezed, this particular vehicle barely raised a sweat as it climbed the steep slopes.

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Fertile Imagination

1927: What’s on a man’s mind? In the case of Leoš Janáček, quite clearly, his lover’s breasts. They were a motif in the Moravian composer’s letters to Kamila Stösslová at the end of 1927. He imagined them rippling like little waves on the River Otava or swelling like the open sea, and fantasized once about covering them with sheets of music.

Source: Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, Intimate Letters: Leoš Janáček to Kamila Stösslová , ed. John Tyrrell (2005), pp. 140–1, 150, 156, 161–2

“In My Day . . .”

1926: John Daniell captained Somerset cricket team for the last time, and soon after, played his last first-class match for the county.

Some years later, Daniell was watching a match at Taunton, when the bowler bowled a delivery that struck Frank Lee, the batsman, in the box.

“The box, you say. What namby-pamby nonsense is that?” Daniell spluttered.

A few minutes later, the same thing happened again. “What does he need a so-called box for?” Daniell thundered. “In my day, we hit fours with our private parts.”

Source: The Guardian, 12 January 2007

Icing On The Cake

1925: Marian Arnold’s husband worked for the China Navigation Company and the Insurance Department of Butterfield & Swire. Years later, she reminisced about their time in China.

She remembered in particular a lunch party at a friend’s house. The friend’s Chinese cook was a talented cake maker. The lunch guests were so impressed by his beautifully decorated gâteau that he was summoned from the kitchen and warmly praised. The cook was very flattered. The hostess was very pleased. She asked whether he had iced the cake with the fancy icing set she had bought at a Shanghai department store.

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Realpolitik

1924: Norway’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union was impelled, in part, by the need to find markets for the Norwegian herring catch. Twelve years later, herrings again played an unexpected role in bilateral relations. The Norwegian government, fearful that the Soviets would halt purchases of the fish, gagged the political exile Leon Trotsky, and then put him on board a ship to Mexico.

Source: Donald Rayfield, Stalin and His Hangmen: An Authoritative Portrait of a Tyrant and Those Who Served Him (2004), pp. 259–60, 261, 271

Career Advice

Hollywood “It Girl” Clara Bow, photographed by Nicholas Murray

1923: Clara Bow, the “It Girl” of Hollywood silent movies, made her first screen appearance in Down to the Sea in Ships. Her mentally ill mother, who regarded heavily made-up actresses as no better than prostitutes, had threatened to kill her to keep her out of films. “You ain’t goin’ inta pictures,” she had ranted. “You ain’t gonna be no hoor.”

Source: David Stenn, Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (1989), pp. 13, 22–3