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
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.
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: 無 which means “nothingness”.
1961: This was the only strobogrammatic year of the 20th century – the only one that read the same when the figures were turned upside down. This had last happened in 1881; it won’t happen again until 6009.
1960: The amount of energy released in the Chilean earthquake on 22 May, the most powerful quake of the 20th century, was so great that it “wobbled the planet” and caused it to reverberate for days like a giant bell.
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
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
1957: Rather than fret about the mushroom clouds rising over the nearby Nevada Test Site, many businesses in Las Vegas hoped to cash in on the nuclear explosions.
The Chamber of Commerce printed special atomic calendars to promote the
city. Newspapers carried photographs of “Miss Atomic Bomb”, a showgirl from the
Sands Hotel, with a cotton mushroom cloud fixed to the front of her swimsuit.
The Flamingo beauty parlour invented an “atomic hairdo”. Visitors to the city
could stay at the Atomic View Motel; other motels provided “atomic box lunches”
for guests who wanted to picnic closer to the test site.
Source: Barbara Land and Myrick Land, A Short History of Las Vegas (2004), pp. 113–14
1955: Ravens have probably stalked and flapped around the Tower of London for much of its history, but the earliest reference to the myth that their departure would portend a calamity for the British nation dates back only as far as 1955.
1954: During the Malayan Emergency, the resettlement of a sizable part of the colony’s rural population in “new villages” was an important element in the government strategy to defeat the communist insurgency. The high commissioner, General Sir Gerald Templer, had harsh words for anyone opposed to the policy.
He berated one
group of villagers: “You are all bastards.”
1953: Jean Cocteau wrote in his diary on 10 January: “The young duke of Kent and his sisters, taken to see a famous illusionist in a London music hall. The number ends with some nudity, and the nanny doesn’t know what to do. As they leave she ventures to ask, ‘How did your Highness enjoy the performance?’ ‘I’m scared.’ ‘Why, Your Highness?’ ‘Mama told me if I looked at naked women I’d turn to stone – and it’s starting.’ ”
Source: Jean Cocteau, Past Tense (1990), vol. II, p. 4
1952: From the 18th until the 20th century, the population of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts, included a disproportionately large number of deaf people. Isolated farming and fishing communities, and consequent intermarriage, ensured that the defective gene passed from generation to generation.
In the 19th century, when the national average in the United States was
one deaf person in roughly 6,000, the figure for Martha’s Vineyard was one in
155. The concentration of deaf people was greatest at the western end of the
island, the up-Island; in Chilmark, one in 25 was deaf.
1950: The United States expected imports from postwar Japan would be limited to knick-knacks, quaint oriental goods and not much else. At a party in Tokyo, President Harry Truman’s special envoy John Foster Dulles suggested that there might be a market in the United States for Japanese-made shirts, pyjamas and cocktail napkins.
Source: John W. Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1986), p. 312
1949: The composer Igor Stravinsky and the novelist Christopher Isherwood hit if off right from the start. Stravinsky found Isherwood’s casual manner refreshing. While many reverentially addressed Stravinsky as “Maestro”, Isherwood simply called him “Igor”. Isherwood didn’t know much about music, didn’t particularly like it and didn’t pretend to. On his first visit to Stravinsky’s Los Angeles home, Isherwood fell asleep while listening to a recording of the composer’s music. Stravinsky later observed: “My affection for him began with that incident.”
Source: Peter Parker, Isherwood: A Life (2004), p.588
1948: When Stewart Springer, who worked for a Florida shark fishing company, reached inside the oviduct of a heavily pregnant sand shark, he was bitten on the hand. (Serves him right, you might say, for putting his hand there in the first place.) He had been nibbled by “an exceedingly active embryo which dashed about open mouthed inside the oviduct”. Springer had discovered one of the less endearing qualities of the sand shark – intrauterine cannibalism – in which the dominant embryo devours the other embryos until it is the only one left in the womb.
1947: Henry “Chips” Channon was delighted with the dinner he hosted at his London home on 25 November. The house in Belgrave Square “looked very grand and glittering, lit up and full of yellow chrysanthemums”; the queens of Spain and Romania attended; and William Somerset Maugham complimented him, “This is the apogee of your career.” The drinks contributed to the success of the evening. “I ‘laced’ the cocktails with Benzedrine,” Channon revealed in his diary, “which I find always makes a party go.”
Source: Sir Henry Channon, Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon, ed. Robert Rhodes James (1967), p. 419
1946: William Lorimer embarked on a translation of the New Testament into Scots. The stories are familiar and the language mostly recognizable. In the Nativity, for example, Mary “wis fund tae be wi bairn bi the Halie Spirit”. Jesus was born in a stable, “sin there wis nae room for them intil the inn”. Angels brought “guid news o gryte blytheness” to nearby shepherds, who “hied owre tae Bethlehem” to see the newborn child. “Spaemen frae the Aist” followed a “stairn gaein on afore them, on an on,” and when it “stappit abuin the houss”, they went inside and fell on their knees and “wurshippit” him.
Source: The New Testament in Scots, tr. William Laughton Lorimer (2012), pp. 3, 4, 101–2
1945: One of the many victims of the Second World War was the Wake Island rail, a flightless land bird that scuttled about the remote Pacific atoll, but was found nowhere else. Japanese forces occupied Wake at the beginning of hostilities. When the garrison’s supply route was cut, starving soldiers hunted the rail to extinction.
Source: Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (2000), pp. 127–8
1944: Stalin loved applause, as long as it was directed at him. Applause for others made him jealous and suspicious. After the entire audience at the Polytechnic Museum in Moscow had spontaneously stood up to acclaim the poet Anna Akhmatova, Stalin reputedly asked, “Who organized this standing ovation?”
Source: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Abandoned: A Memoir (1974), pp. 375–6
1941: Like all adult German Jews, Victor Klemperer was forced, from the middle of September, to identify himself in public by wearing the distinctive Judenstern, or Jewish star, for which he was obliged to pay 10 pfennigs.
Source: Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933–41, ed. Martin Chalmers (1998), p. 414
1940: “I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much.”
Writing to his “good friend Roosvelt”, the young Cuban student offered
a deal: “If you want iron to make your sheaps ships I will show to you
the bigest (minas) of iron of the land”; in return, he requested that the
American president enclose “a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter,
because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would
like to have one”.
At the end of his short letter the boy who thought very much signed off
with an elaborate signature: Fidel Castro.
1939: “They are saying, ‘The generals learned their lesson in the last war. There are going to be no wholesale slaughters,’ ” Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary on 1 November. “I ask, how is victory possible except by wholesale slaughters?”
Source: Evelyn Waugh, The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Michael Davie (1976), pp. 448–9