All posts by Mark Taylor

Today is Washington’s Birthday (President’s Day-US)

 George Washington (1732–99) by Gilbert Stuart Photo: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)
George Washington (1732–99) by Gilbert Stuart
Photo: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Although today is referred to as “President’s Day” it is not a federal holiday by that name. It is officially designated as Washington’s Birthday under federal law. There was a movement to combine both Washington and Lincoln’s birthday (since they occur days apart) or honor the office of president. That never came to be. Instead in 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was past and came into force in 1971. That shifted most federal holidays to a Monday if it fell during the week. Washington’s Birthday name was not changed and so under federal law it is still Washington’s Birthday. However many states issue their own proclamations celebrating not only Washington but Lincoln and others from their own state. Advertisers have caught on as well. So today many call it President’s Day but who it commemorates beyond George Washington is up to the state governors.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize.
President George Washington,Farewell Address, 19 September 1799.

For more information:

Britannica.com
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
History.com

 


Happy St. Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is used by many to show their affection or love for someone they care about. It has spawned an industry for greeting card makers, candies, and of course flowers. However there is a real religious component as many Christian denominations celebrate it as feast day, commemoration, or optional for the local diocese (such as the Catholic Church). Valentine was the name of many Christian martyrs in the early Church resulting in them all being remembered for their acts of sacrifice for the faith. Some denominations, such as Eastern Orthodox Church, celebrate a particular St. Valentine on two different days.

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)
Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland
Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)

The association with romantic love could be linked to an ancient Roman festival has been made but there is no evidence of any link. Most seem to believe the link began with Chaucer’s Parlemont of Foules where he indicates birds choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day although 14 Feb might not be the day Chaucer was referring to. Other poems made the association of love and St. Valentine’s Day in the medieval period and English Renaissance. For those who needed love verses but lacked the ability to compose them, publishers starting offering them. Then putting them on paper and sending them became possible. Paper valentines became very popular in 19th century England resulting in their industrial production. They became popular in the United States as well. With such cards being popular, you needed other things to accompany a card. Roses and chocolates became popular, likely due to skillful marketing to associate them with the day. And so Valentine’s Day became a very major day for greeting card companies, chocolate makers, and sellers of flowers (roses being the most popular flower for the day).

Of course we ought to remember that it is based upon Valentine, who became a saint after he was martyred in Rome in 269 and buried on Flaminian Way. He is the patron saint of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages.

Video of Ship Breaking in Two

Cargo ship Arkin, 2018
Photo: Ersen Aktan, vesselfinder

It is not often you see something this dramatic. This freighter was in heavy seas off the coast of Turkey in the Black Sea. As the video shows, you can see the ship bend that indicates it is going to break up (which it does). They do send an SOS and get off the ship. The incident took place on 17 Jan 2021.

Caught on Cam: Ship Actually Breaks in Two (Weather.com, 9 Feb 2020)

Here are two  news reports on this sinking:

Ukrainian freighter sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea coast (MSN, 17 Jan 21)

Three bodies found after ARVIN ship sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea (UNIAN, 18 Jan 2021)

 

Amazon’s Best Books of the Year

Titanic News-Update on SS. Keewatin; Iceberg Question

 

S.S. Keewatin 2007
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

Heritage Groups Advocate To Keep Titanic-Era Boat In Port McNicoll (Global News, 3 Feb 2021 -Video)

This is a follow up on SS Keewatin, and in video only format.

 

Photograph of iceberg taken by chief steward of Prinz Adalbert on morning of 15 April 1912 near where Titanic sank. At the time he had not learned of the Titanic disaster. Smears of red paint along the base caught his attention. The photo and accompanying statement were sent to Titanic’s lawyers, which hung in their boardroom until the firm dissolved in 2002. Public Domain

What Happened To The Giant Iceberg That Sank The Titanic?
Explica, 4 Feb 202

What is certain is that it must have remained in the same place for a long time: those huge mountains of ice float adrift until over time, they become part of the liquid water of the ocean.

It was reported today that veteran actor Christopher Plummer passed away at age 91. He was a terrific actor who elevated even ordinary movies. He shot to fame playing Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He did not like how his character was drawn. Nor did the real Trapp family children. Aside from the usual liberties taken with the story (and changing the gender of the two oldest from boys to girls!) they were empathetic that their father was nothing like the stage or the movie presentation. And he certainly did not make them wear sailor’s outfits as well. At any rate, Christopher Plummer will be long remembered for the many roles he played on stage, film, and even on the small screen. RIP Christopher Plummer.


Welcome to February

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry-February
Limbourg Brothers (1385 – 1416)
Public Domain US/Wikimedia

February is the second month on the current Gregorian calendar (and the same on the old Julian). It is the shortest month of the year with 28 days except in leap years when it is 29. The name is derived from Februarius, a purification ritual that was held around 15 February on the old Roman lunar calendar. Until the calendar was reformed under the Julian, January and February were the last two months of the year (although originally there were no months after December as the Romans considered the time a month less period until spring). For the southern hemisphere, the seasons are switched so they are heading towards Autumn so it is the equivalent of August for them.

With shorter number of days, it is the one month that can pass without a full moon (it happened in 2018). There are many fascinating names used during the month such as Snow Moon to indicate snow is on the ground. Some Native American tribes call it the Hunger Moon due to limited food sources during winter.

Viola (Violet) is the birth flower for February
Image:Andrew Bossi(Wikimedia Commons)

The February flowers are violet and primrose with amethyst being the birth stone.

Sources:
Britannica.com: February
Timeanddate.com: February


Remembering History: : Congress Approves 13th Amendment (31 Jan 1865)

Celebration in the House of Representatives after adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Harpers Weekly/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

On 31 Jan 1865, the U.S. Congress approved the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude for the entire country. The wording was simple:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

While President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the Confederate states, it did not apply to the entire country. To do that required federal law but merely enacting a statute, which could be rescinded or altered by Congress or a court, meant that the Constitution itself had to be amended. In April 1864 the amendment was passed in the U.S. Senate but faced difficulties in House of Representatives as many Democrats (due it being an election year) did not support it. And President Lincoln’s reelection did not look assured either. However with more Union military victories taking place and Lincoln soundly defeating General George McClellan in the November election, it emboldened Republicans to pass the amendment in the House in December 1864.

Lincoln got personally involved in the process by inviting individual representatives to meet with him. And he put pressure on representatives from border-states to change their votes to pass it. He authorized his supporters in the House to offer plum positions and other inducements to get their vote (a time-honored tradition in Washington politics). He left it up to his allies on how to do it. Some drama ensued when word of a Confederate peace commission having been dispatched to Washington, but it turned out to be false. And the vote for the amendment took place on 31 January 1865. It passed by 119-56 receiving the required two-thirds required by the Constitution. Then with a joint resolution of Congress the following day, the 13th Amendment was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

Ratification

The ratification process began immediately but sadly President Lincoln, who was assassinated on 14 April 1865, did not see it ratified in December. Here is a list of the states that ratified, which does include former Confederate states who ratified after rejoining the Union.

 

1           Illinois                                                Feb 1, 1865

2          Rhode Island                                   Feb 2, 1865

3          Michigan                                            Feb 3, 1865

4          Maryland                                           Feb 3, 1865

5          New York                                           Feb 3, 1865

6          Pennsylvania                                   Feb 3, 1865

7          West Virginia                                  Feb 3, 1865

8          Missouri                                             Feb 6, 1865

9          Maine                                                   Feb 7, 1865

10         Kansas                                               Feb 7, 1865

11         Massachusetts                             Feb 7, 1865

12         Virginia                                             Feb 9, 1865

13         Ohio                                                    Feb 10, 1865

14         Indiana                                               Feb 13, 1865

15         Nevada                                               Feb 16, 1865

16         Louisiana                                           Feb 17, 1865

17         Minnesota                                         Feb 23, 1865

18         Wisconsin                                          Feb 24, 1865

19         Vermont                                             Mar 8, 1865

20        Tennessee                                           Apr 7, 1865

21         Arkansas                                             Apr 14, 1865

22        Connecticut                                        May 4, 1865

23         New Hampshire                              Jul 1, 1865

24        South Carolina                                 Nov 13, 1865

25         Alabama                                             Dec 2, 1865

26        North Carolina                                Dec 4, 1865

27        Georgia                                               Dec 6, 1865      *

28        Oregon                                               Dec 8, 1865

29        California                                          Dec 19, 1865

30        Florida                                                Dec 28, 1865

31         Iowa                                                    Jan 15, 1866

32         New Jersey                                    Jan 23, 1866

33         Texas                                                  Feb 18, 1870

34        Delaware                                          Feb 12, 1901

35         Kentucky                                         Mar 18, 1976

36        Mississippi                                      Mar 16, 1995 *

The amendment was ratified in 309 days with Georgia giving it the required number of votes to formally amend the Constitution. Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Mississippi initially rejected it (but approved it later). However, Mississippi did approve it on 16 Mar 1995 but failed to notify the U.S. Archivist. It became official in 2012.

Sources:

Britannica.com: Thirteenth Amendment
History.com: 13th Amendment
Constitution Annotated: Thirteenth Amendment
Ratification of Constitutional Amendments

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Update:RMS Titanic Inc Decides To Postpone Retrieval of Marconi Wireless

March 6, 1912: Titanic (right) had to be moved out of the drydock so her sister Olympic (left), which had lost a propeller, could have it replaced.
Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public domain

RMS Titanic Inc has formally notified the federal court overseeing the salvage award that it is postponing retrieval of the Marconi wireless from Titanic. However it does plan to eventually do this at some point once logistics and income from exhibitions makes it feasible. There is no date given when they might try again.

Source:

Mission To Retrieve Titanic’s Radio From Ocean Is Postponed (MSN, 31 January 2021)

It cited the “increasing difficulty associated with international travel and logistics, and the associated health risks to the expedition team”, as well as a lack of revenue due to visitor numbers to its vast collection of Titanic artifacts plummeting amid the pandemic. RMS Titanic Inc has also had to lay off high-profile experts in the field: Dave Gallo, PH Nargeolet, Bill Sauder and William Lange. The company, however, maintained that it’s financially secure. It said the radio expedition remains a top priority and will “take place as soon as reasonably practicable”. The postponement is likely to increase fears that the priceless artifacts hidden in the wreckage may not survive if left for too long.

 

Good Morning

Yorkshire Dales by Petr Kratochvil
publicdomainpictures.net

 


Remembering the Challenger Explosion 28 Jan 1986

I was at work when news trickled through the office that something had occurred to the space shuttle Challenger. By noon (Pacific time), more details had become known. Challenger had exploded after liftoff killing everyone aboard. Lunch was quiet as this news was digested. At dinner I remember watching Tom Brokaw on NBC describe the awful events of that day.

For those who boarded the shuttle on 28 Jan 1986, it was lifetime ambition coming true. Each of them had been selected to be part of this mission. The most well known was Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from New Hampshire. She had won a competition to be the first teacher in space. The space shuttle program, launched in 1976, had been a success. It was the first time a space vehicle would use reusable vehicle. And had been used bring satellite equipment into space and perform scientific experiments.

Hundreds had assembled to watch the launch; many of them family members of the astronauts aboard. A live feed of the launch was being watched by school kids all over the country. The news networks were there as well to cover the launch. The launch had been delayed since 23 January due to poor weather and technical issues. The morning of the launch had been cold at Cape Canaveral, Florida. An unusual cold wave had hit Florida and temperatures had dropped to below freezing during the night.

At 11:38 am EST, Challenger lifted off and began her ascent. The assembled crowd watched as the shuttle moved upwards. A minute after the launch, they were told to go for full throttle. And then, 73 seconds into the flight, there was an explosion. Spectators on the ground stood in disbelief at the forking plume and smoke. Millions, including school children, saw it as well on television. At first no one was quite sure what happened. Then confirmation was made that the shuttle had been destroyed.

 

 

That night President Ronald Reagan made a public address to the nation. It was a simple but powerful address. But his closing remarks have always remained with me:

 The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.” (President Reagan’s Address to the Nation, 28 Jan 1986)

President Reagan appointed a special commission to determine what went wrong, and to develop ways to prevent it from happening again. Former secretary of state William Rodgers led the commission which had former astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager on it. Also on the panel was noted physicist Richard Feynman. Feynman clashed with Rodgers and was unafraid to call out NASA for its failures. He also graphically demonstrated during a live hearing how the O-rings were less resilient in cold weather. He did this by lowering a sample of it in ice-cold water and showing when he took it out how inflexible it was. Ultimately it was the O-rings that were at fault. The hard cold during the night had caused it to contract and thus no longer provide proper sealing. When it was subjected to high heat, it lost coherence which led to the chain of events where the shuttle exploded. It would be two years before another space shuttle would be launched. Both Morton Thiokol and the U.S. government contributed to a settlement fund of $7.7 million dollars to the families of the Challenger astronauts.

The crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-51-L pose for their official portrait on November 15, 1985. In the back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.
Source: NASA
Public Domain

 

Sources:

This Day in History: January 28, 1986
Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger: Address to the Nation, January 28, 1986


Remembering History: Auschwitz Liberated by Soviet Army

[Updated 28 Jan 21 to include a news story about a priest who saved Jews in Warsaw.]

Child Survivors of Auschwitz, 1945
Public Domain (via Wikimedia)

On 27 Jan 1945, Soviet Union troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. In doing so, it revealed the horrors the Germans had perpetrated there. Auschwitz was a series of camps designated I, II, and III with also smaller satellite camps. Auschwitz II at Birkenau was the place where most of the exterminations at Auschwitz were done. Using four “bath houses,” prisoners were gassed to death and cremated. Prisoners were also used for ghastly medical experiments overseen by the infamous Josef Mengele (the “angel of death”).

As the Red Army approached, the SS began a murder spree and blew up the crematoria to try to cover up the evidence. When the Red Army finally got there, they found 648 corpses and 7,000 starving camp survivors. They also found six storehouses full of men’s and women’s clothes and other items the Germans were not able to burn before they left.

News Articles

How a Catholic pastor saved hundreds of his Jewish neighbors in the Warsaw Ghetto (Catholic News Agency, 27 Jan 2021)

For More Information:

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial & Museum
Brittanica.com
History.com
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Yad Vashem

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