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

The End Was Nigh

1989: Whew! That was close! An asteroid measuring an estimated 300 metres across, travelling at 74,000 km/h, came within six hours of slamming into the Earth. The asteroid, named Asclepius, crossed Earth’s orbit and passed within 650,000 kilometres of the planet. A collision with an object of that size, moving at that speed, would have seriously rattled the crockery.

Source: Gerrit L. Verschuur, Impact!: The Threat of Comets and Asteroids (1996), p. 116

Smelly Armpits

1988: Geruchsproben, or smell samples, provided the German Democratic Republic’s secret police with a highly personal way of keeping tabs on citizens.

Based on a theory that everyone possessed a separate, identifiable odour and left traces of that odour on everything that he or she touched, the Stasi built up an extensive collection of smell samples.

Surreptitiously collected garments or pieces of fabric bearing individual odours could then be matched, using trained sniffer dogs, against smells found (for example) at the scene of an illegal meeting.

Source: Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall (2004), p. 8

Midair Emergency — We’re Out Of Fuel

Air Canada Boeing 767 on the ground at Gimli air force base after its unscheduled landing

1983: The “Gimli glider” was the nickname given to an Air Canada Boeing 767 that made a forced landing at Gimli, in Manitoba, after running out of fuel in midair.

On 23 July, halfway between Montreal and Edmonton, one of the engines of Flight 143 lost power, and shortly after, the other. The pilot put the airliner into a glide and headed for the disused air force base at Gimli.

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Burning Babies

1982: At the Barbir hospital in western Beirut, medical staff treated casualties from the Israeli Army bombardment of Palestinian camps. Some had been hit by phosphorus shells, including 12 members from the same family.

Two 5-day-old twins had already died, but when they were brought into the emergency room, they were still on fire. “I had to take the babies and put them in buckets of water to put out the flames,” Amal Shamaa said. “When I took them out half an hour later, they were still burning. Even in the mortuary, they smouldered for several hours.”

Next morning, when Dr. Shamaa took the corpses out of the mortuary for burial, they again burst into flames.

Source: Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (1990), pp. 282–3

Omnivorous

1981: A survey of the feeding habits of London foxes found potato peelings in the stomachs of 8.4 per cent of them, birdseed in the stomachs of 1.9 per cent, cooked peas in 1.1 per cent and Chinese takeaways in 0.2 per cent. Nonfood items included rubber bands in 1.6 per cent, cigarette ends in 0.4 per cent and lollipop sticks and shoelaces in 0.2 per cent.

Source: Mammal Review, December 1981

Double Take

1980: The gold medals in the men’s coxless pairs rowing event at the Moscow Olympics were won by identical twins, likewise the silver medals. Bernd and Jörg Landvoigt of East Germany finished in first place, with Nikolai and Yuri Pimenov of the Soviet Union in second.

Source: David Wallechinsky, The Complete Book of the Olympics (2004), p. 19

Donkeys And Melons

Ruhollah Khomeini, photographed by Mohammad Sayyad in 1981

1979: The overthrow of the Shah of Iran ushered in an Islamic state. Religion became paramount. The mundane details of governance were of little concern to Ayatollah Khomeini. “Economics is for donkeys,” he once declared, and when Iranians complained of falling living standards, he admonished them, “We did not make a revolution to slash the price of watermelon.”

Source: Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future (2007), p. 134

Petri-Dish Baby

1978: A human reproductive first: the birth of the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilisation. Louise Brown, born in Oldham, Manchester, on 25 July, was dubbed a “test-tube baby” in the popular media, although the term was a misnomer, as conception actually took place in a Petri dish.

Source: Anthony Dyson, The Ethics of IVF (1995), p. 1

Loftus On Language Distortion

1974: As part of her investigation of memory, the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus conducted an experiment in which university students watched film clips of traffic accidents.

After each clip, the students were questioned; one group was asked to estimate the speed at which the cars had “contacted” each other, a second group, the speed at which the cars had “hit” each other, and other groups, the speed at which the cars had “bumped into”, “collided with” or “smashed into” each other.

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Smelling Of Roses

1973: Two innovations in stamp design from Bhutan: a set of stamps depicting roses, printed on scented paper, and a set of “talking stamps” – miniature gramophone records that really could be played on a turntable.

Source: Stanley Gibbons Simplified Catalogue Stamps of the World (2007), vol. 1, p. 420

Early Nerd

1972: Budding computer programmer Bill Gates, a 16-year-old student at Lakeside School in Seattle, used the school’s computer to arrange class schedules, making sure that “all the good girls in the school” were in his history class and that the only other boy in the class was “a real wimp”.

Source: Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews, Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented an Industry — and Made Himself the Richest Man in America (1994), pp. 44–7

Updated Euphemism

1971: The translators of the King James Bible retained the Hebrew euphemism “to cover one’s feet”. In chapter 24 of the first book of Samuel, for instance, when David was hiding from Saul in a cave: “Saul went in to cover his feet”. Kenneth Taylor’s Living Bible updated this to: “Saul went into a cave to go to the bathroom”.

Source: Kenneth Taylor, The Living Bible (1971), p. 351

Papal Divisions

1970: How many divisions did the pope have? Not many, and even fewer after Paul VI disbanded the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, retaining only the Swiss Guard as his personal bodyguard.

Source: Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (1996), p. 18

Swiss Guards inside St. Peter's Basilica, photographed in 2006 by Alberto Luccaroni

Swiss Guards inside St Peter’s Basilica, photographed in 2006 by Alberto Luccaroni

Travelling Gourmets

1968: In the restaurant at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Noël Coward overheard one American globetrotter explain to another: “I found out what that white stuff was we had in Japan. It was rice.”

Source: Cole Lesley, The Life of Noël Coward (1976), p. 463

Orton Breezes In

1967: Returning from a holiday of sun, sea, sand and homosexual sex in Morocco, the playwright Joe Orton breezed through British customs without a hitch. His technique: “I simply chose the customs officer that, in an emergency, I wouldn’t mind sleeping with, and got through without having even to open my case.”

Source: Joe Orton, The Orton Diaries, ed. John Lahr (1986), p. 230

Petted And Pampered

1966: Elizabeth Arden (real name, Florence Nightingale Graham) was passionate about racehorses. Her pampered thoroughbreds were fed on special clover and massaged and rubbed down with Elizabeth Arden creams and lotions. When Arden died in October, The New York Times quipped that she “treated her women like horses and her horses like women”.

Source: The New York Times, 19 October 1966

“Curious Wild Animal”

Rudolf Nureyev, photographed in 1973 by Allan Warren

Rudolf Nureyev, photographed in 1973 by Allan Warren

1964: “A curious wild animal, very beguiling and fairly unpredictable,” was Noël Coward’s impression of Rudolf Nureyev when they met in Rome. At dinner, the ballet dancer bit his dining companion. “But it was only on the finger,” Coward noted, “and didn’t draw blood.”

Source: Noël Coward, The Noel Coward Diaries, ed. Graham Payn and Sheridan Morley (1982), p. 570

Milgram On Obedience To Authority

WE WILL PAY YOU $4.00 FOR
ONE HOUR OF YOUR TIME
Persons Needed for a Study of Memory

Those who responded to Yale University’s advertisement were told that they would be participating in a study of the relationship between punishment and learning. Each volunteer acted as a teacher, putting questions to a pupil. For each incorrect answer, the teacher was required to give the pupil an electric shock. The intensity of the shock was increased with each mistake, from a 15-volt tingle to a whacking 450 volts.

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Dirty Little Secret

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy photographed during a visit to India in 1962

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy photographed during a visit to India in 1962

1962: Psst! Wanna hear a dirty story about Jackie Kennedy? To cut costs at the White House, at the end of 1962 she instructed that half-empty glasses, abandoned at parties, should be refilled and passed round again, unless they had obvious lipstick marks.

Source: Sarah Bradford, America’s Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (2000), p. 280

Not-So-Fab Four

1961: By the mid-1960s, the Beatles were the most successful pop group in the world, playing to packed crowds of screaming fans. But that was in the future. On 9 December 1961 they performed at the Palais Ballroom in Aldershot to an audience of 18.

Source: www.triumphpc.com/mersey-beat/beatles/aldershot.shtml

Deadly Moonbeams

1960: On 5 October, radar at a missile early-warning station in Greenland showed enemy missiles heading towards the United States.

At North American Air Defense Command headquarters in Colorado, a “massive” Soviet ballistic missile attack appeared imminent, until someone realised that Nikita Khrushchev was actually visiting New York. It seemed very unlikely that the Soviet Union would launch missiles that might kill its own leader. Huge relief at NORAD headquarters, no doubt.

What the radar had in fact detected was a reflection from the moon, rising slowly over Norway.

Source: Eric Schlosser, Command and Control (2013), pp. 253–4