Tag Archives: history

The Eruption of Mount St. Helens (18 May 1980)

At 8:32 am on Sunday, 18 May 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in one of America’s most notable eruptions killing 57 people and causing widespread destruction that forever changed that area.

Mount St. Helens prior to 18 May 1980 Eruption.
Photo taken by Jim Nieland, US Forest Service.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mount St. Helens is in the Cascade Range of Washington state and stood 9,680 feet before the 1980 eruption. Located 98 miles south of Seattle and 52 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, it is considered the most active volcano in the Cascade Range. It last erupted in the 19th century. The area it was in a popular area for sportsman, campers, hikers and generally anyone who wanted to enjoy the lovely area. Nearby Spirit Lake had numerous lodges where people could stay and fish on the lake. The most notable was Mt. St. Helens Lodge owned by Harry R. Truman who famously refused to comply with the evacuation order and ultimately died in the eruption.

The first sign of activity began on 16 March 1980 with a series of small earthquakes. Finally on 27 March, the volcano erupted for the first time in over 100 years with steam explosions that blasted a 200–250-foot crater in the summit. A week later the crater had expanded to 1,300 feet and two giant crack systems appeared crossing the entire summit area. Eruptions stopped on 22 April but then picked up again on 7 May and all the way to 17 May. Earthquakes now grew to over 10,000 and the north flank had a noticeable bulge growing outward at a consistent rate of 6.5 feet per day. This told the geologists that molten rock (magma) had risen high in the volcano. This was an alarming state and why evacuations were ordered, and people told to stay away.

Eruption of Mount St. Helens 18 May 1980
Photo: Austin Post, USGS
Public Domain

An earthquake at 8:32 am on 18 May 1980 occurred and the northern bulge and summit became the largest debris avalanche on Earth ever recorded. An eruption plume rose from the summit crater up 650 feet in the air. The debris avalanche swept north at first then turned westward at speeds of 14 mph down the North Fork Toutle River forming a deposit and a volume of 3.3. billion cubic yards.  The lateral blast from the volcano, the first ever recorded, would overtake the avalanche speeding 300 miles per hour of hot gas that would flatten the dense forest in the immediate area and leaving a 230-mile devastated area covered in hot debris. The eruption cloud would reach 80,000 feet and would continue erupting for 9 hours. Prevailing winds carried 520 million tons of ash eastward across the United States. Cities like Spokane and Yakima would suffer complete darkness as the ash cloud passed over them dropping tons of ash on homes, streets and just about everywhere. The ash fell in Montana and the Great Plains as well.

Aftermath

The eruption was the deadliest in terms of lives and economically destructive to date in the continental United States. In addition to 57 lives killed directly from the eruption, 200 houses, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railway, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. Due to the lateral explosion, the height of the mountain was reduced by 1,300 feet with a crater of 2 miles wide and 2,100 feet deep with the north end open in a huge breach. Timber from the logging camps was damaged or destroyed, though about 25% of it was eventually salvaged. The thick ash fell downwind on areas where agricultural crops were grown. Wheat, apples, potatoes and alfalfa were destroyed by the ash. Needless to say, all the deer and elk in the area were killed in the eruption along with millions of salmon when the hatcheries were destroyed. According to the U.S. Geological Survey report, Mount St. Helens released 24 megatons TNT (7 came from the blast itself) which is equivalent to 1,600 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Mount St. Helens after the 18 May 1980 eruption. Photo taken from Johnston’s Ridge.
Photo: Harry Glicken, USGS
Public Domain

Cleaning up the ash literally became a Herculean task. The ash fall itself closed highways, made driving difficult due to low visibility, and air traffic had to be contained. With all the ash, it became a major task to clean it all up after the eruption had subsided. Ash caused significant damage to filtration systems in cars, contaminated oil and water, and the fine particles damaged glass in vehicles, buildings, and anything else it was blown into. Removing all the ash was not easy. For homeowners and cities, the ash could not be simply washed away as it became sludge and even more of a problem. It had to be either shoveled or mechanically collected and moved away from where it fell. Due to closed roads and other civil works closed by the ash, it had to be moved quickly to wherever could be dumped such as quarries, landfills, or anyplace that could take the ash. For both homeowners and cities, it was a nightmare to deal with but it was eventually all cleaned up though sometimes, while driving out many remote areas of Washington state, you might places where the ash is still lingering.

For Washington state, it took a massive hit on tourism for a while, especially in the area near Mount St. Helens as various meetings, conventions, or other events were cancelled or moved elsewhere. The once beautiful area that people loved to visit though was forever changed. While it no longer looks like the surface of the moon, life has returned as nature has started to remake the area.  The geologist who took the incredible photographs of the eruption and first to report of it– David A. Johnston–died at the observation post. The USGS trailer was found in 1993 but his body was never recovered. Two volcanic observatories were named for him: Johnston Ridge Observatory near Mount St. Helens and the USGS office in Vancouver was renamed David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory. A memorial fund at University of Washington, where he did his graduate and doctoral studies, was created. Two trees were planted in his honor in Tel Aviv, Israel and in his hometown the community center was renamed Johnston Center.

Sources

—. “Mount St. Helens Erupts.” HISTORY, 17 May 2022, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mount-st-helens-erupts-2.

—. “Mount Saint Helens | Location, Eruption, Map, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 10 May 2024, www.britannica.com/place/Mount-Saint-Helens.

1980 Cataclysmic Eruption | U.S. Geological Survey. www.usgs.gov/volcanoes/mount-st.-helens/science/1980-cataclysmic-eruption.

Rhp. “The Eruption of Mount St. Helens in Pictures, 1980.” Rare Historical Photos, 4 Nov. 2021, rarehistoricalphotos.com/eruption-mount-st-helens-1980.

The Great San Francisco Earthquake (18 April 1906)

Northeast View of Post & Grant Avenues, San Francisco, 18 April 1906
Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration, ARC Identifier: 524396)

At 5:12 a.m. on 18 April 1906, Northern California was awakened by an earthquake that is now considered one of the most significant of all time. The epicenter was near San Francisco and the shaking lasted between 45-60 seconds. It was so powerful that it was felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. The intensity showed the clear difference between bedrock and sediment (or land filled) geology. Those that got the strongest shaking were in sediment filled areas rather than bedrock. Which explains why in San Francisco the damage was the most severe in those areas. Specifically it is the area called SOMA (South of Market or the old term south of the slot)where the greatest damage resulted. That area used to be part of San Francisco Bay but was filled in for more housing, commercial, and industrial uses. Houses and buildings were damaged or collapsed.

The train was standing on a siding. Beyond are the buildings of the Point Reyes Hotel, and at the extreme right the ruin of a stone store which was shaken down.Point Reyes Station, west Marin County, California. April 18, 1906
Image: G.K. Gilbert
Source: Photographs from the U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library (CD-Rom)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Although San Francisco got a significant amount of damage, other areas were likewise damaged. Cities like Santa Rosa got hit hard(the entire downtown was destroyed) and many in the countryside suffered building or infrastructure damage as well. The magnitude of the quake was originally thought to be around 8.3 on the Richter scale. However others argue it was between 7.7 and 7.9 based on new interpretations of earthquake data. However you measure it, the earthquake was one of the most severe in the modern era. The earthquake not only destroyed buildings, injured scores and killing 3,000 (estimated) but caused the fires that made it much worse with water supply being severely limited by broken pipes. City leaders would claim later, to ensure people would come back to the city, that San Francisco was not destroyed by the earthquake but the fires. The truth was (and later researchers would learn this)how extensive the earthquake had been to San Francisco. The fires were a direct result of the earthquake and made a bad situation that much worse. The Army used dynamite to blow up areas to block fires. This usually is a good tactic to blow up ground to create firebreaks. This made it much worse since no one thought about the possibility of flying embers from blown up buildings causing more fires. Which is what happened and made it that much worse.

Today we look back at the old pictures but not really appreciate the total magnitude of the disaster. San Francisco rebuilt but continued its old ways for a long time. Buildings went up in the very areas worst hit by the earthquake with little attention to earthquake safety. But by the late 20th century that had changed as city leaders realized how damaging another 1906 type of quake would be to a modern city. New ordinances were passed and many of the taller buildings in San Francisco today in the Financial District were constructed to handle earthquakes.

Photograph of a collapsed facade of a building near Beach and Divisadero Streets in San Francisco October 1989
Photo: J.K. Nakata, United States Geological Survey
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I learned this from being in one such building during the Loma Prieta Earthquake (17 Oct 1989 at 5:07pm). That earthquake was centered near Santa Cruz and measured 6.9, much less powerful than 1906. But it caused a lot of damage and some loss of life as well. The building I was in (since it is on landfill) was built to sway with the earthquake rather than remain locked in place. It was a weird experience to feel the building rock as it did but it survived just fine while a building across the street and built long before that standard had its top cave in. That building had to be torn down.

Some things did stay the same as 1906. There was little official guidance, mass transit was down, lots of cars stuck in traffic, and plenty of people milling about trying to figure out how to get home. I was lucky as I took a SamTrans bus to Daly City from the old Transbay Terminal. It was long bus ride that took close to 3 hours but I was grateful that bus was running. Those living in the East Bay would have to wait a good long while for BART to run again. And those that watched the World Series that night saw an earthquake live at old Candlestick Park.

Additional Information

The Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake (USGS)
San Francisco Earthquake, 1906(National Archives)
New S.F. archive includes stunning photos from 1906 quake(S.F. Chronicle,17 April 2015)
San Francisco earthquake and fire, April 18, 1906 (Library of Congress) 1906 film that shows the damage.
The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire (Bancroft Library Online Exhibit)

Titanic Arrives Queenstown (Cobh) 11 April 1912

RMS Titanic pictured in Queenstown, Ireland 11 April 1912
Source:Cobh Heritage Centre, Cobh Ireland/Wikimedia Commons

RMS Titanic arrived at 11:30 am at Cork Harbour, which is on the south coast of Ireland. Cork Harbour is a natural harbour and a river estuary at the mouth of the River Lee in County Cork. It is considered one of the larger natural harbours in the world and has been used as a working port for centuries. Near the entrance is Roches Point, where its lighthouse has been guiding ships since 1817 (the original was replaced in 1835 and fully automated in 1995). Queenstown, like Cherbourg, did not have the dock facilities to handle a ship of Titanic’s size.

It was a relatively warm day with a brisk wind (and some clouds in the sky) as Titanic made its last European stop. The tenders America and Ireland were used to bring the 123 passengers aboard: 3 First Class passengers, 7 Second Class passengers, and 113 Third Class. There were seven people who disembarked at Queenstown who had booked passage from Southampton to Queenstown. Among those who disembarked was Francis Brown (later Father Francis Brown, S.J.) who was an avid photographer. His pictures taken aboard Titanic would be the last known photographs taken aboard ship. Kate Odell, another cross-channel passenger who got off in Queenstown, also took some photos as well.

Titanic would weigh anchor at 1:30 pm and begin her journey to New York. A picture of her leaving Queenstown would be the very last ever taken while she was afloat. She would not be photographed again until September 1985 when her wreck was discovered on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Titanic was scheduled to arrive in New York on April 17.

Titanic Leaving Queenstown 11 April 1912. Believed to be the last photograph of ship before it sank.
Public Domain

[To be continued with next posting]

Sources

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

 Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/search?query=Titanic.

“Encyclopedia Titanica.” www.encyclopedia-titanica.org.

“The Titanic: Sinking and Facts | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 12 Mar. 2024, www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/titanic.

Remembering President Abraham Lincoln

Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id# cph.3a53289)

February 12 used to be celebrated as a federal and state holiday called Lincoln’s Birthday. However when it was decided in the 1990’s to consolidate all presidential birthday holidays (there were only two celebrated as a federal holiday-George Washington and Abraham Lincoln), the individual holidays were eliminated. So today we celebrate the traditional day that celebrates the life of Abraham Lincoln, who led this country through one of its most painful times-the War between the States or also called the American Civil War.
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On 12 February 1809, future president Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Growing up in a poor family in Kentucky and Indiana, he only attended school for one year. However, he was determined to improve his mind and read books to increase his knowledge. As an adult in Illinois, he held a number of jobs from postmaster to shopkeeper before entering politics by serving in the Illinois legislature from 1834-1842. He then served in Congress from 1847-1849. He married Mary Todd in 1842 and had four sons by him.

During the 1850’s he returned to politics and was an important leader in the new Republican Party. Slavery had been a major issue especially when new states or territories were being added. Though not an advocate for slavery, he sought to avoid conflict by limiting the expansion of slavery into new states but allowing it to remain where it was already practiced. The secessionist movement though was rising, and he argued that such a division would divide them and destroy the union created in the formation of the United States.

His oratory won him praises and recognition of his status as a leader. And it helped to cool the secessionists for a time. Though he did not seek the abolition of slavery in the South, when he was elected president in 1860 many states began seceding and war would soon commence between the United States and the Confederate States of America. Lincoln became fully committed as a result to the abolition of slavery. He would sign the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that freed slaves in the Confederate States. It did not apply right away to the entire nation (which was resolved by the 13th Amendment that outlawed for the entire nation).

Lincoln was known for his dry wit, his impressive stature at 6′ 4, and he also loved animals as well. During his time in the White House there were a variety of pets that included a pet turkey and a goat. His humor hid from people his depression at times as to what was going on with the war. He was plagued early on with military defeats and some generals who were more used to parade grounds than actually conducting military operations. Pro-Confederacy newspapers mocked him mercilessly. And Confederate sympathizers called him a despot for signing the Emancipation Proclamation. He was killed after the wars end by John Wilkes Booth on 14 April 1865. His favorite horse, Old Bob, was part of the funeral procession.

He is remembered as the Great Emancipator for under his presidency the United States fought to abolish slavery. While many criticize him for his moderate views in his early years, he became totally committed to its abolition during the war. While the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress before his assassination, it was not formally ratified by the states until December 1865.

Sources

“Abraham Lincoln | Biography, Childhood, Quotes, Death, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 Feb. 2024, www.britannica.com/biography/Abraham-Lincoln.

“Abraham Lincoln: Facts, Birthday and Assassination | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/abraham-lincoln.

Piccotti, Tyler. “Abraham Lincoln.” Biography, 28 Dec. 2023, www.biography.com/political-figures/abraham-lincoln.

“Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency  | Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1877  | U.S. History Primary Source Timeline  | Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress  | Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/united-states-history-primary-source-timeline/civil-war-and-reconstruction-1861-1877/lincoln.

Check out our Amazon store for books on Abraham Lincoln.

Purchase or view the movie Glory at Amazon.

 

Remembering Christopher Columbus (Observed)

  Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Celebrating Columbus began in 1792 in New York City and became an annual tradition.  As a result of 11 Italian immigrants being murdered by a mob in New Orleans in 1892, President Benjamin Harrison declared Columbus Day as a one-time national celebration. This was also part of a wider effort to ease tensions and to placate Italian Americans and Italy, which had expressed official dismay at the murders. Italian Americans began using Columbus Day to not only celebrate Columbus but their heritage as well. Serious lobbying was undertaken to enshrine the holiday in states and ultimately the federal government. Colorado proclaimed it a holiday in 1905 and made it an official holiday in 1907. In 1934 after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and New York City Italian leader Generoso Pope, Congress passed a statute requiring the president to proclaim October 12 as Columbus Day each year and asked Americans to observe it with “appropriated ceremonies” in schools, churches, and other places. However, it was a not yet a federal holiday.

The effort to make it a federal holiday began in 1966 when the National Columbus Day Committee lobbied to make it a federal holiday. This was achieved in 1968 and has been a federal holiday since then. Like most federal holidays, it is often celebrated on a Monday of the week the date it falls on. The exception being if falls on a Saturday, it would be celebrated on Friday. Columbus is recognized for his discovery of the New World. He, like many, were eager to discover the riches of Cathay, India, and Japan. Since the Ottoman Empire closed off using Egypt and the Red Sea to Europeans (land routes were closed as well), European explorers were eager to find a sea route. Columbus (and he was not the only one) held the belief that by sailing west they would be able to get to the Indies. While many educated Europeans (like Columbus) believed the Earth was round, they had no concept of how it big it really was.

Thus, they thought East Asia was closer than it was. After securing financing from the Spanish monarchy, Columbus set sail on 3 August 1492 with three ships-Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina–from Palos, Spain.  On 12 October 1492 land was sighted. They would find Cuba later and Columbus thought it was Japan. They landed on Hispaniola in December and left a small colony behind. Returning to Spain in 1493, he was received with high honors by the Spanish court. Columbus would lead four expeditions to the New World exploring the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and South and Central American mainland. His original goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia was never accomplished. And he likely never truly understood the full scope of what he had accomplished.

The New World–North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America–would open new opportunities for exploration and wealth. Spain would become one of the wealthiest and powerful nations on Earth as a result. Sea travel of great distances in the 15th century was quite a challenge, fraught with all kinds of uncertainty and dangers. They had to depend on the wind, current and favorable weather, and the stars. The sextant had not been invented yet, so they used a procedure called Dead Reckoning. This required the use of simple arithmetic and process to determine their location. A long rope was used, a piece of wood, an hourglass, and a compass. The navigator would record in a log book the daily speed and direction. The rope was knotted every four to six feet along its length.

Arithmetic tells us that distance traveled in a single direction can be measured by multiplying the speed with the time. You might have done some of this in grade school. A car traveling at 30 miles per hour for two hours would travel 60 miles (speed x 2). A navigator would log the speed, direction, and time in the log. In this way they could measure the distance traveled to and from where they departed from. Changes in wind speed and other things would be recorded as well. Columbus used his own version, gained from experience sailing, of determining the speed and direction to enter in his log. He could feel the keel moving through the water and with his sense of the wind, knew what the speed of his ship was. It was a remarkable and historic undertaking. Long sea voyages were often avoided because you were away for years at a time and dependent a great deal on nature to survive.

And there was the terrible specter of scurvy. Many would die on long sea voyages from this scourge, which came from the lack of vitamin c in the diet. Fresh water in kegs often wet bad after a month, so beer and spirits (often rum), was where you got water from. Fruits and vegetables would only last so long, and meat had to be cured for long term use. So food was rationed carefully. Later when it was realized that having citrus would alleviate this condition, sailors would get lime or lemon juice as part of their daily food ration. It became so common on British Royal Navy ships the sailors were called Limeys. Italians and Spanish are rightly proud of his accomplishment. Others had touched upon America (the Vikings for one) prior to Columbus but none had opened the door as he did to a new part of the world that had been undiscovered.

Like all our accomplished heroes of the past, he had his faults. In fact, not one hero you can point to doesn’t have faults. The ancient Greeks knew this and what defined a hero was someone who rose above them to do something extraordinary. The Greek hero Heracles (Hercules in Latin) had all kinds of faults but did things that rose above them. Columbus should be remembered for the courage, bravery, and fortitude to sail over the horizon to see what lay beyond. It would change the world and end the Venetian and Ottoman control of trade to the East forever. Columbus died on 20 May 1506. Gout was considered the cause of his death, but doctors today believe it was reactive arthritis.

For information about Christopher Columbus, here are some sources online to view:

Britannica Online History.com

 

 

Krakatoa Eruption In 1883 Kills Thousands and Heard 3,000 Miles Away (27 Aug 1883)

The eruption of Krakatoa, and subsequent phenomena. Report of the Krakatoa Committee of the Royal Society (London, Trubner & Co., 1888)
Public Domain

On 20 May 1883, Krakatau(Krakatoa)–a small volcanic island west of Sumatra in Indonesia–came alive with an eruption noticed by a passing German warship. Other eruptions would be noticed by commercial liners and those living on nearby islands for the next two months. Then on 26 Aug an enormous blast took place that destroyed nearly two-thirds of the island. Pyroclastic flows and huge tsunamis would sweep over nearby islands and coastlines. But the worst came the following morning, 27 Aug, at 05:30 am. Four eruptions would took place with the resulting sound heard over 3,000 miles away. Ash was propelled fifty miles into the air and would circulate around the globe creating colorful sunsets but also lowering temperatures worldwide by several degrees.

36,000 deaths resulted from the eruption and 31,000 were from the tsunamis created when much of the island fell into the water. The highest waves were 120 feet high when they washed over neighboring islands stripping them of people and vegetation. Pyroclastic flows that stretched as far as 40 miles claimed about 4,500.

The Krakatau eruption of 1883 is considered one of the most violent volcanic activities in modern times and even recorded history. However volcanic activity continues in that area. In 1927, a submarine lava dome was detected in the area that had been destroyed by the eruption in 1883. A new island volcano began to emerge spewing ash. Other islands also started appearing as well but eroded away by the sea. Ultimately a fourth one appeared in August 1930 and was able to last. It was named Anak Krakatau and continues to grow taller each year. It is an active volcano and seemed similar to Stromboli in its eruptions. However more recent eruptions have resulted in volcanologists to warning people to keep a safe distance away. And more ominous is that a large lava dome is growing in its crater. Signs point to one day a very explosive event occurring at this volcano.

Sources:

 


Correcting History:Ben-Hur and Galley Slaves

Ben-Hur (1959) film poster
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

One of the greatest movies in cinema history is Ben-Hur. Made during the period where Sword and Sandal movies were popular, this epic telling of the book by Lew Wallace (Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ) showed Hollywood at its finest. The epic movie told a great story and had fans riveted to their seats for 212 minutes (that is over three hours including overture) and had many epic scenes (such as the famous chariot scene) that today are still talked about. It won all the categories of its day in the 1960 Academy Awards. A feat that was not toppled until Titanic and later the Lord of the Rings movies. And it saved MGM from bankruptcy as well.

One of the more riveting aspects is when Judah Ben-Hur is sentenced to be a galley slave on the trumped-up charge by his boyhood Roman friend Messala (played by Stephen Boyd) of trying to kill the new governor. A loose tile had fallen off the roof of his home when he passed by spooking his horse and throwing him off. His family is tossed out their home to boot as well. Before he leaves, Judah tells his old friend Messala that he will return, which stuns Messala since it was not likely. When he reaches his ship, he is taken below and becomes one of the slaves rowing the ship. He loses his name and becomes a number. And like all the galley slaves, chained to prevent escape. It is a hopeless existence where you row constantly on the orders of the commander and many die of exhaustion when pushed to the full limit of rowing at high speeds.

While the ships depicted in the movie more or less look like ships used during the period (but probably sturdier), the aspect of Romans using slaves for rowing warships is inaccurate. Instead, nearly everyone who did this task signed up for it and nor were they chained (they were not slaves). In other words, they signed up and were paid to be the engines of the warship. Since they had no artillery or guns, they used catapults to fling fiery objects (or heavy rocks sometimes) or had archers sending flaming arrows to the enemy ships. The standard tactic was to get close enough to board or ram. The front piece of the ship had a heavily constructed bow plate the was designed to break the hull of the other vessel when rammed. Sea battles were not always that easy though as enemy ships tried to maneuver to avoid that. So, you would end up in extended battles as a result. Having a large number of ships though had the effect of causing some enemies to just flee or surrender. At the famous Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when Antony jumped off his ship and swam for a ship departing with Cleopatra’s, the rest of his ships decided to surrender after that knowing the large Roman fleet outnumbered them. On land, Antony’s troops were likewise discouraged from moving east and marching towards Egypt. They sent a message offering to switch sides to Octavian (later Augustus) which was accepted.

Since Romans didn’t use slaves on their ships, where did this idea come from? It turns out it is a bit of post-historical revisionism. Long after the Roman Empire fell, some nations in the 16th, 17th and even into the 18th centuries used slaves in their ships to man the rowers. While they had sails, having rowers gave you an advantage when winds were calm, and your ship had cargo to deliver (or needed speed in battle). However, as time went on and ships built for speed the need for rowers was gone. Older Spanish galleons were likely the only ones that had them into the 19th century in Europe, but the need for slave rowers and slaves in general decreased dramatically as slavery itself came under considerable dislike. Slavery existed in one form or another during the Roman Empire and prior to it by the other powers (Greece, Egypt, Persia, and others). Where the slaves came from made the difference as to what they did as slaves. Most came from wars of conquest or lands Rome occupied. Unskilled slaves (0r those sentenced to slavery for crimes) worked on farms, mines, and mills according to most sources. More educated slaves might end up working in households or if they had some special skills (like mathematics, medicine or other in demand skills), they might be put into places where they skills would be used. Women slaves might end up in prostitution or in households. Romans did not trust slaves to serve in the military except perhaps in support capacities (delivering food etc).

Many people of course know about Spartacus  who led the famous revolt between 73-71 BC. He was not, as the movie of the same name, born into slavery. As a Thracian, her served as soldier for Rome but later deserted. When he was captured, he was made into a slave and then eventually helped lead the group of 70 that escaped the gladiator school in Capua. They formed a larger unit of escaped slaves which alarmed citizens (since they seized weapons and food from Romans) and made the Romans look unable to stop them. But they did in 71 BC and ended the revolt. To make it clear they would not tolerate such a revolt again, they crucified every one of the escaped slaves (Spartacus body was never found but believed to have died in battle). Bounties were put into place to be paid when escaped slaves were captured. Far from contributing to the end of the Roman Empire as the movie Spartacus claims, slavery remained in place until its fall. And there were no other slave revolts after this.

 

 

Remembering the 1932 Flight of Amelia Earhart (20 May 1932)

Amelia Earhart circa 1928 Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress digital ID# cph.3a22092)
Amelia Earhart circa 1928
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress digital ID# cph.3a22092)

On 20 May 1932, five years after Charles Lindbergh made his famous solo nonstop flight from the U.S. to France, Amelia Earhart set out to be the first female aviator to accomplish the same feat. Unlike Lindbergh, Earhart was already well known before this flight. She gained fame in 1928 as part of a three person crew to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. On that trip, she kept the plane’s log.

Early on 20 May 1932, her Lockheed Vega 5B took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. She intended to replicate Lindbergh’s flight but encountered strong northerly winds, mechanical problems, and icy conditions. Instead of landing in France, she landed in a pasture at Culmore(north of Derry)in Northern Ireland. When asked by a farmhand how far she had flown, she famously said “From America.” Her feat received international acclaim. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross in the U.S., Cross of Honor of the Legion of Honor from France, and the Gold Medal from the National Geographic Society. Her fame allowed her develop friendships with many important and influential people such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Earhart would continue to make solo flights and set records. Sadly her next most famous mission would forever be shrouded in mystery. In 1937 she attempted–along with copilot Frederick Noonan–to fly around the world. On 2 Jul 1937, her plane disappeared near Howland Island in the South Pacific. Despite extensive searching by the U.S.Navy and Coast Guard, no trace of the plane or its pilots were ever found. The search was called off on 19 July. Earhart was declared legally dead on 5 Jul 1939 so that her estate could pay bills. Since then numerous theories as to what happened have been put forth. Many believe her plane either crashed and sank or that they landed on an island and perished awaiting rescue. Some intriquing evidence recovered in 2012 off Nikumaroro might be from their plane which supports the crash and sank hypothesis. More speculative theories have her being a spy for FDR or being captured and executed (along with Noonan)by the Japanese on Saipan (the area checked for the pilots bodies revealed nothing). A 1970 book claiming she had survived, moved to New Jersey, and changed her name to Irene Craigmile Bolam. There really was an Irene Bolam who had been a banker in New York in the 1940’s. She sued the publisher and obtained an out-of-court settlement. The book was taken off the market. National Geographic throughly debunked it in 2006 on Undiscovered History.

https://youtu.be/k6LsxtFOYFA


Welcome to May

May, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1412-1416)
Limbourg brothers (fl. 1402–1416)
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

May is the fifth month on the current Gregorian and the old Julian calendar. It is named for the Greek goddess Maia. On the old Roman calendar, this was the third month. May has 31 days. The full moon in May is sometimes called the Flower Moon since many flowers bloom during this month.

May is commonly associated with spring in the Northern Hemisphere but autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Usually, it is also the time that plants begin to grow. It is a time for many festivals and celebrations as well. The ancient Romans had several of them during May and many Europeans today have events during the month. Late May is often considered the beginnings of the summer season in many places.

The May symbols are the emerald (birthstone), along with Lilly of the Valley and Hawthorn as the birth flowers.

Emerald from Muzo Mine, Mun. de Muzo, Vasquez-Yacopí Mining District, Boyacá Department, Colombia
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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Remembering President Abraham Lincoln

Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id# cph.3a53289)

On 12 February 1809, future president Abraham Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Growing up in a poor family in Kentucky and Indiana, he only attended school for one year. However, he was determined to improve his mind and read books to increase his knowledge. As an adult in Illinois, he held a number of jobs from postmaster to shopkeeper before entering politics by serving in the Illinois legislature from 1834-1842. He then served in Congress from 1847-1849. He married Mary Todd in 1842 and had four sons by him.

During the 1850’s he returned to politics and was an important leader in the new Republican Party. Slavery had been a major issue especially when new states or territories were being added. Though not an advocate for slavery, he sought to avoid conflict by limiting the expansion of slavery into new states but allowing it to remain where it was already practiced. The secessionist movement though was rising, and he argued that such a division would divide them and destroy the union created in the formation of the United States.

His oratory won him praises and recognition of his status as a leader. And it helped to cool the secessionists for a time. Though he did not seek the abolition of slavery in the South, when he was elected president in 1860 many states began seceding and war would soon commence between the United States and the Confederate States of America. Lincoln became fully committed as a result to the abolition of slavery. He would sign the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that freed slaves in the Confederate States. It did not apply right away to the entire nation (which was resolved by the 13th Amendment that outlawed for the entire nation).

Lincoln was known for his dry wit, his impressive stature at 6′ 4, and he also loved animals as well. During his time in the Whist House there were a variety of pets that included a pet turkey and a goat. His humor hid from people his depression at times as to what was going on with the war. He was plagued early on with military defeats and some generals who were more used to parade grounds than actually conducting military operations. Pro-Confederacy newspapers mocked him mercilessly. And Confederate sympathizers called him a despot for signing the Emancipation Proclamation. He was killed after the wars end by John Wilkes Booth on 14 April 1865. His favorite horse, Old Bob, was part of the funeral procession.

He is remembered as the Great Emancipator for under his presidency the United States fought to abolish slavery. While many criticize him for his moderate views in his early years, he became totally committed to its abolition during the war. While the 13th Amendment was passed by Congress before his assassination, it was not formally ratified by the states until December 1865.

 

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