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.
I have been withholding posting on some new developments about Titanic until I was fully read up on it. Not too long ago a long dormant treaty to protect the wreck of RMS Titanic was agreed to by the United Kingdom and the United States. Both sides mutually agree that the wreck is to remain untouched. Canada and France have not signed the treaty but are in possible consultations to sign on as well.
Actual salvage ended some years ago when RMS Titanic Inc. (owned by Premier Exhibitions) said no further salvage expeditions were planned. A salvage award was done and the entire collection is up for sale (it has to be sold as one unit). So far no one has put up a successful bid due to the high price and the strict conservation requirements the court imposed.
The state of the wreck is, well, it is a wreck that is going the way of most wrecks. It is steadily decaying and probably will be totally gone in a few decades (perhaps sooner or later but it is inevitable). That raises a concern that perhaps a valuable historical artifact will be totally lost forever if it cannot be recovered soon.
At least that is the concern of RMS Titanic Inc that now is petitioning the federal court for permission to retrieve the Marconi wireless transmitter from inside Titanic. Up until now, artifacts have been retrieved from the debris field and not from the ship itself. The argument is a simple one: it has to be retrieved before the ship decays further making it impossible. As can be expected, a storm of controversy has erupted. If it goes the course as before, the name calling and accusations of grave robbery will be thrown out.
During the first salvage, the Titanic community was divided. Flame wars erupted on the Internet that were so nasty, so personal, and took no prisoners that it drove many from Titanic online communities to never return. Anyone that was pro-salvage was vilified personally and without remorse. One notorious anti-salvager is rumored to have faked his own death to avoid facing his victims.
The essential argument is that with the ship in a rapid state of decay, retrieving this one artifact for history ought to be allowed. It is a compelling argument but so is letting Titanic being left alone as a memorial to those who have perished. A reproduction could serve the same purpose without having to disturb the wreck further.
Still had Howard Carter took pictures and sealed up the tomb of a virtually unknown pharoah, we would never have seen how ornate the tombs of pharoahs really were (most were looted and ransacked) in the Cairo museum today. Both sides have merit and a court in Virginia will make that decision. The treaty may or not play a role in this but it will be interesting to watch.
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.
The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)
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.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt Signing Declaration of War Against Japan 8 Dec 1941
National Archives and Records Administration
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 United States 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.
There have been many other shipwrecks on Lake Superior over the years. Many other mammoth November storms. Many other lives lost. But thanks in large part to singer Gordon Lightfoot, one shipwreck stands above the rest in the Great Lakes’ collective memory: the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Scott was with a team of Americans and Canadians who in 1995 traveled to the site of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s watery grave. Their mission was simple: collect the bell on top of the pilot’s house, replace it with a replica that featured the engraved names of the 29 crewmen who perished in the shipwreck, and bring the old bell to the surface to be displayed as a memorial at Whitefish Point.
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on 10 Nov 1975 taking with her a crew of 29. The ship was launched in 1958 and was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. As a freighter, the ship primarily carried taconite iron ore to iron works in various Great Lake ports. The ship set records for hauling ore during its career.
On 9 Nov 1975, the Fitzgerald under the command of Captain Ernest McSorley, embarked on her final voyage of the season fron Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. She met up with another freighter, SS Arthur Anderson, while enroute. The next day a severe winter storm hit with near hurricane force winds and waves that reached 35 feet in height. Sometime around or after 7:11 p.m., the Fitzgerald sank in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Bay near the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. While McSorley had reported difficulty earlier, his last message was “We are holding our own.”
The cause of the sinking has stirred debate and controversy with competing theories and books on the issue. The various theories are:
(1) Inaccurate weather forecasting. The National Weather Service forecast had said the storm would pass south of Lake Superior but instead it tracked across the eastern part, exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson were. So they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
(2) Inaccurate navigational charts. The Canadian charts in use came from 1916 and 1919 surveys and did not include more updated information that Six Fathom Shoal was about 1 mile further east than shown.
(3)No Watertight Bulkheads
The ship did not have watertight bulkheads and more like barges rather than freighters. So a serious puncture could sink a vessel like Fitzgerald while ships that had such bulkheads, even if seriously damaged, had a better chance of survival.
(4)Lack of Sounding and Other Safety Instruments Fitzgerald lacked the ability to monitor water depth using a fathometer( a device that uses echo sounding to determine water depth). The only way the Fitz could do soundings was using a hand line and counting the knots to measure water depth. Nor was there any way to monitor if water was in the hold or not (some was always present reports suggest)unless it got high enough to be noticed by the crew. However on that night, the severity of the storm made it difficult to access the hatches from the spar deck. And if the hold was full of bulk cargo, it was virtually impossible to pump out the water.
(5)Increased Cargo Loads Meant Ship Was Sitting Lower In Water
The load line had been changed in 1969, 1971, and 1973 with U.S. Coast Guard approval. This resulted in Fitzgerald’s deck being only 11.5 feet above the water when she faced massive 35 foot waves on that day. She was carrying 4,0000 more tons than what she was designed to carry. Which meant the buoyancy of the ship was an issue who fully loaded resulting in reports the ship was sluggish, slower, and reduced recovery time.
The US National Transportation and Safety Board believes that prior groundings caused undetected damage that led to major structural failure during the storm. Since most Great Lakes vessels were only inspected in drydock once every five years, such damage would not have been easily detected otherwise. Concerns have also been raised that Captain McSorley did not keep up with routine maintenance. Photographic evidence indicates the hull was patched in places and the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard to take corrective action is also an issue considering that various things were not properly maintained.
Captain McSorley rarely pulled his ship into a safer harbor to ride out a storm. Nor did he heed a warning from the U.S. Coast Guard issued at 3:35 p.m. to seek safe anchorage. Possible pressure from ship owners to deliver cargo on time is considered a factor for some captains like McSorley to ride out storms rather seek safe anchorages. The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board concluded that complacency is a major factor in what happened to Fitzgerald and generally a problem for Great Lakes shipping. Critics point out the Coast Guard failed in its own tasks of properly requiring those repairs and lacked the means to rescue ships in distress on the Great Lakes.
The wreck was found on 14 Nov 1975 using technology to find sunken submarines. The U.S. Navy dived to the wreck in 1976 using an unmanned submersible. The wreck was found to be in two pieces with taconite pellets in the debris field. Jacques Cousteau dived to it in 1980 and speculated it had broken up on the surface. A three day survey dive in 1989 organized by the Michigan Sea Grant Program was done to record the wreck for use in museum educational programs. It drew no conclusions as to the cause of the sinking. Canadian explorer Joseph MacInnis led six publicly funded dives over three days in 1994 to take pictures. Also that year sport diver Fred Shannon and his Deepquest Ltd did a serious of dives and took more than 42 hours of underwater video. Shannon discovered when studying the navigational charts that the international boundary had changed three times. GPS coordinates showed the wreck was actually in Canadian waters because of an error in the boundary line shown on official lake charts. MacInnis went back to the wreck in 1995 to salvage the bell and it was financed by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. A replica bell and a beer can were put on Fitzgerald. Scuba divers Terrence Tysall and Mike Zee used trimix gas to dive to the wreck and set records for deepest scuba dive on Great Lakes. They were the only divers to get to the wreck without a submersible.
The wreck is now restricted under the Ontario Heritage Act and has been further amended that a license is required for dives, submersibles, side scan sonar surveys and even using underwater cameras in the designated protected area. And they added a steep fine of 1 million Canadian dollars for violating the act.
Fitzgerald was valued at $24 million. Two widows filed suit seeking $1.5 million from the owners and operators of the ship. The owners filed to reduce to limit their liability. However the claims never went to trial as the company paid compensation to the surviving families who signed confidentiality agreements. It is believed the owners and operator wanted to avoid a court case where McSorley was found negligent as well as the operator and owner. Changes to Great Lakes shipping did occur such as requiring fathometers in ships above a certain tonnage, survival suits, locating systems for ships (LORAN originally now GPS), emergency beacons, better wave predictions, and annual inspections of ships in the fall to inspect hatch and vent closures.
Annual memorials take place though the one made famous by Gordon Lightfoot, the Mariners Church in Detroit, now honors all who perished on the Great Lakes.
BBC News is reporting that the wood cross made from Titanic wood was sold for £10,000 ($12,969). The cross was made by Samuel Smith, one of the crew of the SS Minia that went out to retrieve bodies from Titanic. It was expected to fetch £12,000. The name of the purchaser was not released.
LiveScience is reporting the famed explorer Robert Ballard has ended his search for Amelia Earhart’s plane in the coral reefs of Nikumaroro.
The team mapped the island with sonar and a floating surface vehicle — and they employed remotely operated vehicles to explore the deeper crevices of the underwater mountain that Nikumaroro is a part of. The team even searched 4 nautical miles out and came up with nothing remotely linked to Earhart. They did, however, find a bunch of rocks that were the same size and shape as the supposed landing gear from the photo, according to the Times.
One expert consulted for the article was not surprised given the plane’s composition and that so much time has passed. There have been many theories about what happened to Amelia Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan. Most have concluded the plane must have crashed in that area but evidence has been scant but it is the most promising. Bones found in a Tarawa museum are being checked and a temporary campsite found on Nikumaroro is being tested for DNA.
National Geographic funded the expedition and will release a documentary on it.
Historical based movies or television series are often matched with the history they depict. Historical fiction is where historical events or people are present but the actual story is fiction. Herman Wouk’s Winds of War is an excellent example. The journey of the Henry family was fictional though set during the events of World War II.
James Cameron’s Titanic is a great movie, won numerous awards, and still gets praise today. The central characters were fictional but took place on the Titanic. Cinema Blend took a look at the movie and compared it to what really happened. They found it was mostly accurate but not completely. Jack and Rose were fictional but most of the supporting characters on the ship resembled their historical counterparts. Cinema Blend notes adding this made the story telling better especially in the case of Ida and Eva Strauss holding hands.
Other things such as the barricades or guns being fired were more conjuncture than real. Yet they provided emotional drama for the movie, which is why they were there. The key to remember is that filmmakers will tinker with historical details for a variety of reasons. In really bad ones they shift a lot of things around for drama rather than historical accuracy.
For instance Scarlet and Black, a 1983 miniseries, was based on the real life exploits of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. O’Flaherty helped allied prisoners of war (and others) in Rome during World War II. But it strayed quite a bit from the historical source material it was based on for entertainment purposes. So while highly entertaining, much of the telling was altered.
In this case Cameron stayed more or less with history when it mattered. And let Jack and Rose be exactly who they were in the movie about their fictional love story.
On this date in 1871, what became known as the Great Chicago Fire began and would last till 10 October. The fire began around 9 pm on October 6 possibly at a barn owned by the O’leary family or in the nearby area southwest of city center. It consumed a shed on that farm and then spread outward. Due to a period of hot, dry and windy conditions, the fire would spread rapidly. With homes and buildings built mostly of wood, it also provided fuel for the fire as well.
The fire leapt the south branch of the Chicago River destroying central Chicago. It leapt across the main river branch and consumed the north side as well. 300 people were killed and a large swath of the city (about 3.3 square miles) was destroyed. 100,000 people were left homeless because of the fire. After the fire help poured in from all over the country and internationally as well. Money from Great Britain helped build the Chicago Public Library that would be free to everyone.
The aftermath brought reconsideration of many things particularly in the area of building construction. Fire prevention became a big topic and construction of brick rather than wood buildings would result. With the right infrastructure in place, it would prevent such a catastrophe from happening again. Rebuilding began right away with higher standards and sometimes with buildings that were considered better than the ones that burned down.