Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who gave all to serve this country. At national cemeteries and smaller ones around the country, flags and flowers have been placed to remember them. We also remind ourselves that freedom is not easily granted, often requires great sacrifice. President Lincoln made note of this in his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
On 6 May 1937 the German passenger airship Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed while trying to dock at Naval Air Station Lakehurst near Lakehurst, New Jersey. Of the 97 passengers and crew, 35 perished and one worker was killed on the ground.
Airships were a popular way to travel. They were comfortable and often afforded their passengers the ability to see things that passengers of airplanes would not often see. The Germans had perfected the use of airships while the United States suffered humiliating crashes that confounded designers. The German Zeppelins used hydrogen for many years without any major incident until 1937.
The event was caught on newsreel and on radio. Herbert Morrision’s radio coverage is classic and you can listen to at History.com. You can also listen to this one on YouTube which points out that Morrison’s voice was much higher than normal due to the tape recording speed (he was known for his deep voice). His actual audio report sounds different when you hear it as it ought to have been. A British Pathe newsreel of the disaster be viewed here.
While sabotage was suspected, neither the American or German inquiries concluded that was the cause. The American report concludes:
The cause of the accident was the ignition of a mixture of free hydrogen and air. Based upon the evidence, a leak at or in the vicinity of cell 4 and 5 caused a combustible mixture of hydrogen and air to form in the upper stern part of the ship in considerable quantity; the first appearance of an open flame was on the top of the ship and a relatively short distance forward of the upper vertical fin. The theory that a brush discharge ignited such mixture appears most probable.
The many theories that continue to persist are:
Mythbusters examined the incendiary paint hypothesis and concluded it did not cause the catastrophe. Many believe the most likely reason for the explosion is that a tiny tear in the fabric or an exposed piece of metal was the entry point for static electricity to ignite the hydrogen. Hydrogen would never be used again for airships after this.
Airships faded from use though the famous Goodyear blimps over sports and other events are used to film the events below. And with the desire to conserve our environment these days, helium filled airships may yet return as a means of travel.
Today is 15 March and on the old Roman calendar was a day of religious observance to the Roman god Jupiter and other lesser deities. But it is most famous as the date in 44 BC when Julius Caesar was assassinated at a meeting of the Roman Senate. 60 conspirators were involved but the leaders were Brutus and Cassius. Caesar was forewarned of his death by a seer according to Plutarch. And in his famous work Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has the soothsayer say “beware the ides of March” which Caesar ignores and if course he ends up stabbed to death uttering the famous line before death:
Et tu Brute!
The assassination was a turning point for Rome. It brought about a civil war and ended the Roman Republic. Octavian (later Augustus) would become emperor and the Roman Empire would come to dominate the entire Mediterranean Sea, North Africa, and parts of Europe and Britain. In Julius Caesar Mark Antony gives perhaps the most remembered funeral oration ever done. Most people recall the famous opening line:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar.
The oration is masterful in that it cleverly turns the people against Brutus and Cassius by showing they were ambitious and not Caesar. By the end the plebeians call them traitors and murderers.
In real life, it was much the same. Antony played them by seemingly supporting amnesty but turning people against them both. Brutus was forced to leave and ended up on Crete, Cassius went east to gather support among the governors and to amass an army. Antony and Octavian would clash militarily causing divisions in Rome. This allowed the forces of Brutus and Cassius to march on Rome. However Octavian made peace with Antony upon this news so both forces joined to stop Brutus and Cassius. They met at Philippi on 3 Oct 42 BC. The first battle resulted in Brutus defeating Octavian but Antony defeating Cassius. Not knowing that Brutus had defeated Octavian, Cassius took his own life. At the second battle of Philippi on 23 October, Brutus was defeated and forced to flee into the hills where he committed suicide. Antony treated his body with great respect by having it wrapped his most expensive purple mantle. His body was cremated and remains sent to his mother.
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.
1. Titanic Foundation Launches Tourism Development Plan(31 Jan 2018, Museums Association)
Titanic Foundation, the charity set up in 2007 to preserve and promote Belfast and Northern Ireland’s maritime and industrial heritage, has unveiled plans to further develop the Titanic Quarter’s tourism offer. The Titanic Quarter Destination Plan identifies 12 projects under three core themes – connectivity, visitors and heritage. Projects include the creation of an “outdoor museum”, the development of a Maritime Mile to link the waterfront from Donegall Quay to the tip of Queen’s Island, and the continued preservation and restoration of the area’s heritage assets.
2.Davenport Hotel Recreating Original Titanic Menu(26 Jan 2018, KXLY) Chef Adam Swedberg and his team have selected five of the original 10 courses served aboard the Titanic. Guests will be allowed to sample and taste original recipes in a historic setting similar to what First Class passengers aboard the Titanic experienced. No reservations are required to enjoy this unique meal. The Palm Grill opens daily at 5 p.m. and closes at midnight. The 5-course dinner costs $50 per person and wine pairings with the meal are at an additional cost.
3. Tickets for Dive to Titanic Wreck Are Up for Grabs — if you have $130K to spare (21 Jan 2018, Toronto Star) Their $130,000 seats were priced at the inflation-adjusted cost of a first-class ticket for Titanic’s doomed maiden voyage, and help fund the company’s research. Each participant gets flown out for seven days on the chartered research vessel and at least one dive to the wreck site on a five-person sub lasting six to nine hours. “We have some folks who are mountain climbers, we have others who’ve been to the South Pole,” Rush said.
“One guy, I think he snowshoed to the North Pole. It’s a varied group, but I think the unifying characteristic is they’re adventurous.”
4. Divers Believe They’ve Found Famed Luxury Ship That Sank In 1838 Off N.C. Coast (19 Jan 2018, Courier Tribune) A luxury steamship that went to the bottom of the Atlantic in 1838 with half its affluent passengers may have been found 40 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The disappearance of the Pulaski remains one of the nation’s most dramatic and deadly maritime disasters, partly because half of the people on board died, but also because its passengers included some of the most prominent families in the southeast. Among those lost was New York Congressman William B. Rochester and six members of the Lamar family, then among the richest families in the southeast. The ship was bound for Baltimore from Savannah when it exploded around 11 p.m. on June 13, 1838. One hundred of the roughly 200 people on board died, including many who were scalded to death by steam. Newspaper accounts tell dramatic stories of “panicky passengers in their night clothes, seeking refuge on the promenade deck as the bow rose out of the water and ripped apart.”
For many of us it is hard to conceive a world without television, telephones, and the Internet. Sending important communications took time if significant distance was involved. And would increase exponentially if the recipient was on another continent. The speed of the horse, the foot, and how good the wind was would determine how quickly the message was delivered. Samuel Morse on 6 Jan 1838 demonstrated for the first time how electric impulse could transmit messages. He was not the only one who was working on the same concept but the first to get it beyond a concept to a working means of communication.
His prototype demonstrated the use of using dots and dashes to represent letters and numbers. In the demonstration of 1838, he showed that this method of communication was possible. Morse, who had attended Yale University interested in art and electricity, became intrigued when he learned coming home from Europe about the newly discovered electromagnet and decided to work on the telegraph. Convincing skeptics took some doing. Not many were convinced sending messages in this fashion were possible or practical. It required the use of telegraph lines that would transmit the data over long or short distances. And it meant people would have to be trained to understand this Morse code. Morse convinced U.S. Congress to fund construction of the first telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. The first telegram sent in May 1844 said: “What hath God wrought!”
Soon private companies would emerge using Morse’s patent to set up telegraph lines all over the American Northeast. Western Union, formerly called the New York and Mississippi Valley Company, completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. Telegraph systems would spread in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Underwater cables would connect both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Messages of all kinds could be sent by telegraph. Since telegraph companies charged by the word, messages became succinct no matter whether it was happy or sad news. The period was replaced in most messages with the word “stop” as that was free.
One of the chief constraints of the telegraph is that it relied on the telegraph line and undersea cables. Thus messages could be delayed or lost by downed poles, military actions, weather related issues, or problems in the receiving office. Radio telegraphy was developed by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895. Sending the same messages over the air meant they were no longer restricted to telegraph lines. But it too could have its problems as what happened with Titanic. You have messages get mixed and mashed up resulting inaccurate information being reported. Radio telegraphy would lead to radio transmission allowing voices to be heard for the first time and the radio would be born. Wireless telegraphy would continue for business and governments and develop ultimately into the radioteletype networks.
The old fashioned telegraph continued on. Western Union introduced the singing telegram in 1933 and was still a means of communication until after World War II. During the war the sight of a Western Union courier became dreaded because the War Department sent telegrams to families informing of a death or sometimes a serious injury. The scene in A League of Their Ownwhere Tom Hanks grabs the telegram from the messenger so that he could deliver it was not made up but reflected what most knew telegrams would announce.
The telephone though ultimately replaced the telegraph for most communications. When you could pick up a phone and tell someone important news, there was no need to go down to the Western Union office and pay by the word for a short succinct message when an inexpensive phone call would do it. Telegraph companies folded up, were bought up by larger companies, or completely rebranded. Today Western Union primarily transfers money (money orders, money transfers, and commercial transactions) and no longer performs any telegraph service.
The development of the telegraph allowed for more rapid dissemination of information unlike anything before. No longer were messages tied to the speed of ships, horses, trains and even feet. Major events could be learned quickly rather than weeks or months. It was a major technological step that unlocked other technologies that has changed the world dramatically.
On this date in 1941, Japan launched a carrier based strike on U.S. military forces based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their strategy was to use this attack to convince the country and its leaders that war with Japan would be futile. They achieved tactical surprise as no warning of an attack had yet been received. While decryption of their codes had revealed their intent, the warning did not reach Pearl Harbor until after the attack had begun. The Japanese legation in Washington did not deliver their government’s official response to a recent diplomatic exchange until after the attack due to problems in transcribing the message. The attack began at 07:55 local time (12:55 p.m. eastern standard time). It was early afternoon when President Roosevelt was notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the attack. There was some doubt among some staff as to the validity of the report but President Roosevelt believed it. And subsequent reports would show it was true. Radio was soon reporting on it as well and the entire nation soon learned of the shocking event that had taken place in the faraway location.
The purpose of the attack was to seriously cripple the U.S. naval and air operations (both the Navy and Army Air Corps). The surprise was effective and sank or crippled numerous American ships. However the jewels of the fleet were the aircraft carriers and they were not there. And the Japanese had no idea where they were. After conducting the first two strikes, a third strike was considered to more completely wipe out the storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities. Captain Minoru Genda,who helped in the planning,argued for invasion to maximize American losses. Admiral Nagumo decided to retire because of deteriorating weather, the unknown location of the American carriers, the long turnaround time required for a third strike that would allow American forces to gather and counterattack, and the fact the Nagumo’s strike force was at the extreme limit of logistical support. They were low on fuel and another strike would require them to travel at reduced speeds to conserve fuel. So he headed home. Much later Admiral Yamamoto, who supported the decision at the time, would in retrospect say it was a mistake since it allowed the U.S. to come back quickly.
Most of those who died at Pearl were sailors aboard the ships that were damaged or sunk. Of the 2,008 sailors killed, 1,177 were killed when the forward magazine on the USS Arizona exploded. Eighteen ships were sunk, beached, or run aground. 188 aircraft (mostly Army Air Corps) destroyed, 159 damaged. Most of the planes were destroyed on the ground. Only eight pilots got airborne and did attack Japanese aircraft but only one was shot down. Some pilots were killed or shot down later by friendly fire. Five inbound planes from USS Enterprise were shot down. The Navy lost 24 of its PBY planes. Additional casualties came from when Japanese attacked barracks. 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Since the U.S. was not at war, they are all classified as non-combatants. The Japanese lost 55 airmen, nine submariners and one captured. They lost 29 planes in battle and 74 were damaged by antiaircraft fire.
Most Americans were enjoying a pleasant Sunday. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with the Japanese ambassador around 2:30 p.m., just when the first reports were coming in about the attack. Popular Sunday afternoon radio shows were interrupted with the stunning news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. From coast to coast, Americans were riveted to their radios listening to the latest updates. Lines of volunteers began forming outside military recruitment centers. The isolationist sentiment was ushered to the rear while most of the nation united against the Japanese. On 8 November before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.
Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
And a hour later Congress officially declared war on Japan. Far from causing the U.S. to cower, it brought Americans together like never before. Hitler’s decision to join with Japan on 11 Dec was somewhat of a surprise-to his German High Command! They had not planned with war with the U.S. so soon and now they faced a two front war with an highly industrialized power against them. Mussolini foolishly committed Italy to the war with the U.S. as well. For Japan they had control of the Pacific until June 1942. That is when the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. At the end of the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk to our one (the Yorktown). It was a shocking loss to the Japanese (and one they kept secret for as long as possible). The Doolittle Raid had convinced them to take on the American Navy directly. They did and lost spectacularly. And it shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had been correct in his assessment of how the war with America would go:“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”
Yamamoto would not survive the war. President Roosevelt ordered that he be taken care of for his part in planning the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to the work of U.S. Naval Intelligence that had broken Japanese codes (code named Magic), his travel plans to the South Pacific in April, 1943 were learned. Orders were given and select pilots were used to target a very important high officer but were not told who it was. On 18 April 1943, a squadron of Lockheed P-38’s were assigned to intercept and bring down his transport being escorted by Japanese zeroes. There were two Japanese transports. After a dogfight with the Zeroes and transports, the transport with Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea. Japanese search parties found his body, thrown from the aircraft and under a tree. He had two .50 caliber bullet wounds, one in his left shoulder and the other that had exited through his right eye. The true manner of his death was hidden from the Japanese public and not revealed until long after the war had ended. He was cremated, given a state funeral, and given posthumous titles and awards. Today the place where his plane crashed is a tourist attraction.
[Due to work and other things, I have not been able to blog regularly. I am taking steps to resume more frequent blogging]
Today is Columbus Day in the United States. It is celebrated to recall a historic exploration that resulted in the discovery of America, totally unknown to the Europeans up to that point (except for a select few vikings who found it too far away to valuable for trading etc). What we celebrate is the courage of those like Columbus who set into the unknown. Charts and maps were not wholly reliable, legends and stories often inspired them. And nor was it easy. You were on a sailing vessel deep into the sea with food supplies that had to be rationed carefully. Scurvy and other diseases caused by lack of proper food made voyages difficult to say the least. The only power was the wind; no turbines to propel you along. And you were totally isolated. There was no way to contact home and not way for them to contact you. Voyages like this could take many long months or years. The desire to explore what was out there beyond the known is something to celebrate. it took guts and a whole lot of faith when times got tough. The age of discovery that was to come would fill out our knowledge of the world and its continents. Celebrating this spirit of discovery does not mean you embrace or like what happened to many native peoples that came later. Nor do you not honor Native Americans who arguably immigrated here from Asia long before. You honor the spirit of exploration and discovery that led to many wonderful things being found about our world.
Now for Titanic News:
1)Nephew Recounts Uncle’s Experience On The Titanic (The Post-Journal, 9 Oct 2017) Recently, guest speakers Bob Sutehall of Angola and Lorraine Cole of Fredonia presented a program marking the 105th year since the sinking of the Titanic. As people listened to the true story of Sutehall’s uncle, Henry Sutehall Jr, who boarded the ship April 10, 1912, the spirit of the RMS Titanic was in the room. While everyone envisioned this massive luxury ship, Cole appeared wearing era clothing and re-enacting the character Caroline Wick Bonnell, who was an actual passenger aboard the Titanic, and a survivor. In character, Cole acted out a scenario of that tragic night.
2)’Quite a story’: 2 Victory residents survived Titanic voyage(auburnpub.com,9 Oct 2017) Many people don’t realize the town of Victory, and several other Cayuga County communities, have ties to the tragic 1912 sinking of the RSM Titanic. Two Victory residents, Helga and her two-year-old daughter Hildur Hirvonen, were on board the historic ship, traveling from Finland to join husband and father Eric Hirvonen in the United States, when it hit an iceberg and began to take on water over. The mother and daughter were rescued from the ship in a lifeboat. “The father was already here or he probably wouldn’t have made it because women and children were first,” Victory historian Beverly Sayles said. “It wasn’t like every man for himself the way many times it is today. It was women and children first, they had a chivalry order.”
3)Though not really a Titanic story, this is about a railroad station that has called Titanic of the Mountains. The Canfranc International Railway Station between Spain and France was once a major hub between Span and France but of course played an important role for the Nazis during World War II. It fell into decay and was abandoned in the 1970’s as a railway station. Yet many tourists came to see this once great rail station. Now comes word that it will be restored reports the Daily Mail.
Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. It became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. It has also become the “unofficial” end of summer as by this time schools have reopened and most summer vacations have ended. Both federal and state offices are closed along with schools. It is also a bank holiday as well and the stock markets are closed. However most retail stores stay open while most professionals (doctors,lawyers and others along with their support staff) get the day off.