Remembering History: German & Italy Sign Pact of Steel (22 May 1939)

The signing of the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939 in Berlin
Photographer unknown
Public Domain/WIkimedia Commons

On 22 May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance that became known later as the Pact of Steel. This began the formal military and political alliance between the two countries. Initially Japan was to be part of the agreement but there was disagreement on the focus of the pact. Germany and Italy wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France, while Japan wanted the Soviet Union to be the focus. The agreement was signed without Japan but would later join in September 1940.

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The agreement brought together two countries that opposed each other in World War I. It also required each country to come to the aid of the other if it were in armed conflict with another nation. Neither party could make peace without the agreement of the other. One of the assumptions of the agreement was that war would start in three years at the latest. Italy needed the time to get its war production into high gear. The agreement was for ten years but there was some concern within the Italian government the agreement would suppress Italian autonomy. The agreement was still signed despite these objections, which also came from Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Read Count Ciano’s War Diaries

Hitler, however, would soon declare his intentions of invading Poland. Mussolini was not happy he was not consulted on this, nor about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement. Italian forces did not commit fully to war until June 1940 when German forces had defeated British and French forces with lightning speed. Italy seized Nice as its prize. Other countries it tried to invade proved more difficult. Greek partisans brought the Italian force to a halt. Germany would intervene to help there and in Yugoslavia where Italian troops also pushed back by partisans. A disastrous attack on British Egypt from Italian Libya required German assistance as well. The economic consequences of the war were bad for most Italians generating widespread resentment that would lead one day to Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.

Sources:

—. “The Pact of Steel Is Signed; the Axis Is Formed.” HISTORY, 19 May 2021, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-pact-of-steel-is-signed-the-axis-is-formed.

—. germanhistorydocs.org/en/nazi-germany-1933-1945/the-pact-of-steel-the-signing-of-the-german-italian-military-alliance-in-the-new-reich-chancellery-may-22-1939.

Axis Alliance in World War II. encyclopedia.ushmm.org/index.php/content/en/article/axis-powers-in-world-war-ii.

—. “Pact of Steel.” Wikipedia, 17 May 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pact_of_Steel.

Remembering History: Nazis Begin Killing Mentally Ill Patients in East Prussia (21 May 1940)

Poster from March 1935 exhibition in Berlin called ‘Miracles of Life.” The poster depicts the results of inferior people having more children than pure Germans thus outnumbering them over time. This and other things were used to show why the Nazi eugenics programs were important to preserve purity of the German people.
Source: German Federal Archives (Bild 102-16748 ) via Wikimedia Commons

The systematic killing of children deemed “mentally defective” (Kinder-Euthanasie) was begun in 1939 under the code name T-4 to hide its purpose, which was to restore the genetic purity of the German people. Children that had been certified as mentally ill, schizophrenic, or incapable of murder were either killed by lethal injection or gassed to death. Children who met this classification were removed from the facility they were in and taken to one of six centers for “disinfection.” Both Jewish and non-Jewish children were targets of this program. The successful implementation of this plan led to its expansion to adults who met the same classification as well.

Starting on 21 May 1940, Aktion T-4 had mentally ill patients in East Prussia transferred to Soldau concentration camp. There they would be killed by an SS unit under the command of Herbert Lange, who was paid 10 Reichsmarks for each person killed. However, since many of the patients were deported without notice to their legal guardians, this caused unexpected legal issues to arise. The death certificates that were eventually issued were ambiguous as to the cause of death often citing a contagious disease. This raised suspicion that something was going on (the same issue would also arise around the deaths of children killed already under this program). The Nazi’s tried covering their tracks by making it hard for the guardians and their doctors from tracking the movements of their patients or wards by transporting them first to transit centers and then later to an extermination camp (or done at the transit center).

The uproar that resulted from this not-so-secret extermination of children and adult mentally ill patients would force Hitler to suspend and then cancel the program in August 1941.

Sources

Euthanasia Program and Aktion T4. encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/euthanasia-program.

—. “Hitler Suspends Euthanasia Program.” HISTORY, 14 Aug. 2019, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hitler-suspends-euthanasia-program.

—. “Nazis Begin Killing ‘Unfit’ People in East Prussia.” HISTORY, 19 May 2020, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nazis-kill-unfit-people-in-east-prussia.

Lutz   Kaelber (Author): Kinderfachabteilungen (“Special Children’s Wards”):  Sites of Nazi “Children’s ‘Euthanasia’” Crimes and Their Commemoration. www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/children.

—. “Child Euthanasia in Nazi Germany.” Wikipedia, 22 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_euthanasia_in_Nazi_Germany.

Snyder, Louis Leo. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. 1976.

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)

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.

 

Sources

Mullen, Matt. “Amelia Earhart Becomes the First Woman to Make Solo, Nonstop Transatlantic Flight.” HISTORY, 19 May 2021, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/earhart-completes-transatlantic-flight.

—. “Amelia Earhart | Biography, Childhood, Disappearance, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 18 Apr. 2024, www.britannica.com/biography/Amelia-Earhart.

—. “Amelia Earhart.” Biography, 30 Jan. 2024, www.biography.com/history-culture/amelia-earhart.

“Amelia Earhart.” National Air and Space Museum, 28 Sept. 2021, airandspace.si.edu/explore/stories/amelia-earhart.

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.

Friday Titanic News-Harland & Wolff, Could Titanic Have Survived Head on with Iceberg and more!

Enormous gantry cranes in the yards of Harland & Wolff, Belfast 2018.
Image Credit: August Schwerdfeger via Wikimedia Commons

Grennan, Dan. “Titanic Shipyard Faces Closure After 160 Years as Jeremy Hunt ’is Set to Block £200m Aid Package For…” Mail Online, 15 May 2024, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-13421011/Titanic-shipyard-Hunt-aid-package-Harland-Wolff.html.

The historic Belfast shipyard where the Titanic was built is facing closure after 160 years as Jeremy Hunt is ‘set to block a £200million aid package for Harland & Wolff’.  Government insiders have reportedly voiced ‘serious fears’ that the firm based on the docks in north Belfast could collapse as a result of the funding cut, which would end centuries of shipbuilding in the city. Harland & Wolff currently builds Royal Navy ships as part of a £1.6bn contract but it is believed the vessels could be constructed in the Spanish port of Cadiz if the businesses shuts down. It would be the first time in British naval history that a warship was built by a foreign yard. The historic ship building firm, which has had financial issues for decades and has a market value of £20million, was given the green light for a £200million support package at Christmas.

 Additional news:

Oliver, Matt. “Rivals Line up to Take £1.6bn Navy Contract From Titanic Shipyard.” The Telegraph, 16 May 2024, www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2024/05/16/rivals-line-up-to-take-16bn-navy-contract-titanic-shipyard.

Britain’s biggest defence companies are lining up to take over a £1.6bn Royal Navy supply ship contract amid fears the business tasked with delivering it could collapse. However, the Government source added that talks were still focused on helping to secure Harland & Wolff’s future, adding that contingency plans would only be looked at in a “worst-case scenario.” Harland & Wolff was plunged into uncertainty earlier this week after it emerged a loan guarantee promised by the Government was in doubt amid legal concerns it could breach state aid rules.

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

Elliott, Richard. Could Titanic Have Survived a Head-on Impact? 14 May 2024, www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/could-titanic-have-survived-a-head-on-impact.html.

Edward Wilding, a senior naval architect from Harland & Wolff shipbuilders, gave evidence to the British inquiry into the loss of the Titanic concerning the design and construction of the ship. On the 19th day of the inquiry, 7th June 1912, the following exchange took place.

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Banim, Julia, and Julia Banim. “Inside Cottage Frozen in Time With Newspaper of Titanic Tragedy Left on Table.” The Mirror, 14 May 2024, www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/inside-haunting-cottage-frozen-time-32806392.

A clock on the mantelpiece is stuck showing 12.15, a pair of glasses are left ready to pick up and a rusted OXO tin has been left open, with two pocket watches stored inside. Hundreds of handwritten letters fill the drawers, and three kettles are sat on the stove, next to a cup which appears to have been placed there just before it was abandoned. Old books and newspapers including the Mid Ulster Mail from 1917 were left sitting in the living room which had been shut off for more than 50 years, alongside one newspaper which reported the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

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Kasprak, Alex. “Abandoned Castle ‘Frozen in Time’ After Owner Died on Titanic?” Snopes, 13 May 2024, www.snopes.com/fact-check/engelhart-cornelius-ostby-titanic.

One person inspired to travel there, in 2022, was urbex TikToker Ramy Awad. On that trip, he created a video, titled “Exploring a castle that was owned by passengers on the Titanic,” that went viral, thanks in part to coverage in outlets like the New York Post and Newsweek. Speaking to the Post, Awad claimed that  [The] property was once home to Norwegian businessman, Engelhart Cornelius Ostby, who died in the maritime tragedy, on April 14, 1912. […] Awad claimed he came across paperwork inside the castle linking the Norwegian with the castle. Snopes can find no evidence to substantiate the claim that Østby inhabited this residence, but we can find ample evidence against the notion. 

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RMS Olympic First Class Lounge (1912)
Photo: Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Northlines. “Antique Piano From Titanic’s Sister Ship Poised for an Encore Performance.” Northlines, 14 May 2024, thenorthlines.com/antique-piano-from-titanics-sister-ship-poised-for-an-encore-performance.

An upright piano crafted over a century ago by renowned piano makers Steinway & Sons is poised for a comeback performance, thanks to efforts by music and history lovers to restore this piece of maritime musical heritage to the public. Commissioned in 1912 for the ocean liner RMS Olympic, sister ship of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, the walnut instrument bears serial number 157550 and its origin has recently been verified through records. Currently housed at Besbrode Pianos in Leeds, England, the piano is remarkably well-preserved from its days entertaining passengers aboard the Olympic before being retired over 80 years ago.

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Killingbeck, Dale. “Wyoming History: Wyoming-Bound Passengers Among Survivors of Titanic Disaster.” Your Wyoming News Source, 11 May 2024, cowboystatedaily.com/2024/05/11/wyoming-bound-passengers-among-survivors-of-1912-titanic-disaster.

Hugh Woolner, 45, a former stockbroker, was chairman of the National Oil syndicate of London and involved with Western Exploration company drilling northwest of Casper. He was enjoying all the perks of the first-class accommodations on the celebrated ocean liner’s first voyage. His physician advised him to take the ship as a means to avoid getting pneumonia — something he contracted on a previous crossing on a different ship.

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E/M Group, LLC. TITANIC: The Artifact Exhibition Coming to Warsaw. 10 May 2024, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/titanic-the-artifact-exhibition-coming-to-warsaw-302142485.html.

More than a century after Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage, the stories of love, heroism, sacrifice, courage, and loss born from that fateful night endure. Now, E/M Group and RMS Titanic, Inc. are honored to bring these stories to Warsaw, Poland when TITANIC: The Artifact Exhibition opens on September 1st, 2024 at the SOHO ART CENTER. SOHO ART CENTER, located in the Kamionek neighborhood of Warsaw, presents cultural exhibitions and is part of a vibrant community. For more information, visit www.titanic.pl.

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White, Kelly. “Titanic Memories Haunt Worth Library – Southwest Regional Publishing.” Southwest Regional Publishing, 10 May 2024, southwestregionalpublishing.com/2024/05/10/titanic-memories-haunt-worth-library.

Bringing the ship back to life was the Worth Public Library on April 15 with a program called, The Haunted Titanic, with local historian Bob Trzeciak, who walked patrons through the history, the lasting impact, and why it has remained a fascination for all of those 112 years. The event was free and open to the public at the library, 6917 W. 111th St. “It’s hard to nail my favorite part about the Titanic to just one thing but the fact that what could go wrong did,” Trzeciak, of Alsip and Paranormal Radio Activity, said. “Very unfortunate circumstances.” Trzeciak was introduced to paranormal findings by brother, Ray Trzeciak, who while attending college at Governors State University, introduced Trzeciak to parapsychology, the study of mental phenomena that are excluded from conventional scientific psychology. He showed Trzeciak parapsychology textbooks and information on findings. “Some of the Titanic’s hauntings are fact and some are fiction,” Trzeciak said.

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Liles, Jordan. “Video Shows Wine Retrieved From Titanic Wreckage Sold for $1.4 Million at Auction?” Snopes, 7 May 2024, www.snopes.com/fact-check/titanic-wine-sold-auction.

On April 30, 2024, online users began virally sharing a video on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and X, with a rumor claiming the clip showed a bottle of wine recovered from the wreckage of the Titanic selling for $1.4 million at auction. “A sealed bottle of wine recovered from the Titanic has sold for a record-breaking $1.4 million at auction,” the TikTok user claimed in the text caption alongside the video. “The Oceanic Reserve Champagne, produced by the ‘Maritime Vineyards,’ is one of few intact bottles salvaged from the wreck, making it a highly sought-after piece of history. The sale underscores the enduring fascination with the Titanic disaster and the value placed on preserving its memory.” Snopes has rated this rumor “Miscaptioned.” The video was genuine and did not appear doctored but also did not show a bottle of wine recovered from Titanic selling at an auction for $1.4 million. We found no news articles describing any such auctions. Further, a Google search for “Oceanic Reserve Champagne” and “Maritime Vineyards” produced zero helpful results — indicating these were not genuine product or company names.

 

 

Remembering History: Lewis & Clark Expedition Begins (14 May 1804)

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Under President Jefferson, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803 for a price of 3 cents per acre for some 828,000 square miles of land. It is considered one of the best land deals ever. Jefferson commissioned the expedition of Lewis and Clarke to explore this territory  from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. On 14 May 1804 this “Corps of Discovery” as it was called, left St. Louis with 45 men (only 33 would make the full journey) for the newly purchased American interior.

Modern map of United States showing the Louisiana Purchase of 1803
Sources: Natural Earth and Portland State University
Uploaded by William Morris to Wikimedia Commons at request of author.

Traveling up the Missouri River in six canoes and two longboats they would winter in Dakota before crossing into Montana where they saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. They would meet the Shoshone Indians on the other side of the Continental Divide, who would sell them horses. The journeyed through the Bitterroot Mountains, down the rapids of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, until they reached the Columbia River and to the sea. They arrived at the Pacific Ocean on 8 November 1805 and were the first European explorers to do this overland from the east. The paused for the winter and then made their journey back to St. Louis in the spring.

The journals that were kept noted longitude and latitude with detailed notes on soil, climate, animals, plants, and native peoples. They identified new plants and animals (the grizzly bear for one). They also named geographic locations after themselves, loved ones, friends and even their dog. They experienced a variety of diseases and injuries during their journey but only one person perished. Their expedition is considered one of the most consequential and remarkable in U.S. history. Their travels in Oregon would lead the U.S. to able claim territorial rights later.

Shop for books on Lewis & Clark expedition on Amazon

Sources:

Buckley, Jay H. “Lewis and Clark Expedition | Summary, History, Members, Facts, and Map.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 17 Apr. 2024, www.britannica.com/event/Lewis-and-Clark-Expedition.

—. “Lewis and Clark: Expedition, Purpose and Facts | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 28 Mar. 2023, www.history.com/topics/19th-century/lewis-and-clark.

—. “Louisiana Purchase | Definition, Date, Cost, History, Map, States, Significance, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 Apr. 2024, www.britannica.com/event/Louisiana-Purchase.

This was first published in 2020. It has been updated in 2024 with new sources.

 

 

Remembering History: Lindbergh Baby Found Dead (12 May 1932)

Lindbergh Child Poster 1932
Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby would shock the nation and bring heartbreak to the Lindbergh family. Famed aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne lived in a house in Hopewell, New Jersey. Around 9:00 pm on 1 March 1932, the kidnapper or kidnappers climbed a ladder into the second-story nursery and abducted the child. A ransom note of $50,000 was left behind. The child was found missing an hour by the nanny, Betty Gow. The local police were notified and turned the case over to the New Jersey State Police. The search found the ransom note, muddy footprints in the nursery, and a ladder a distance away from the home. Footprints from the ladder led into the woods at the edge of the property.

Two other ransom notes would be received raising the demand to $70,000. Attempts to contact the kidnappers failed. Ultimately a retired New York City teacher named John Condon placed advertising in a Bronx newspaper offering to act as intermediary. He got a note from the kidnappers that he would be acceptable. Condon used newspaper columns under the name of Jafsie to send messages. The kidnappers responded with leaving secret written messages at locations in New York City. Additionally, the kidnappers sent the child’s sleeping suit as proof of identity. On 2 April 1932, a meet was set up to deliver the ransom with Lindbergh nearby. Condon talked with someone called John. He accepted $50,000 (the original amount) and said they would find the baby on a boat named Nelly Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. A search for the boat turned up nothing. The money paid were gold certificates whose serial numbers were recorded by the Treasury Department.

Sadly, on 12 May 1932 the body of child was found less than 5 miles from the Lindbergh home. The child was positively identified as the missing child Charles Lindbergh, Jr. An autopsy determined the baby had been killed by a blow to the head either during or just after the kidnapping. The Lindbergh’s were deeply saddened and decided to leave the area, and the house was given to a charity. Investigators checked everyone connected to Lindbergh and John Condon. Nothing was found. Outrage over the kidnapping convinced President Roosevelt to order the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (renamed later to Federal Bureau of Investigation) to investigate.  Congress passed the Federal Kidnapping Act (known as the Lindbergh Law) on 12 June 1932. The law makes kidnapping a crime across state lines and that the person(s) convicted of it would face the death penalty.

Aftermath

A year later a service station attendant in New York City recorded the license plate of a man who had paid with a $10 gold certificate. The gold certificate was registered as one that was used to pay the kidnappers a year before. It was traced to a Bronx residence who matched the description of John who Condon had met with. On 10 Sept 1934, Bruno Hauptmann was arrested and a $20 gold certificate from the ransom payment was found on him. More gold certificates would be found, and his penmanship was similar to what the kidnapper(s) used. Hauptmann claimed he was holding the money for Isidore Fisch, who had returned to Germany and had died. Hauptmann was indicted for murder on 8 Oct 1934. He went on trial in January 1935. This “trial of the century” was mostly circumstantial rather than direct evidence. Condon’s telephone number though was found on a closet door frame and Lindbergh recognized his voice as the one heard the night of the ransom payment. Hauptmann took the stand in his defense claiming he was innocent. He claimed he was beaten by the police and forced to give handwriting samples. He was found guilty on 13 February 1935. His legal appeals, including to the U.S. Supreme Court were rejected. He was executed on 3 April; 1936.

There have been many books over the years that dispute the fingerprints, the police methods and the investigation claiming he was at best innocent or worse framed for the crime. Some have argued that Lindbergh himself was responsible though the outcome of the dead infant was unplanned. Others have sifted through all the evidence and found the evidence compelling enough to warrant the conviction. The strongest support of that is he fit the description that Condon gave, and Lindbergh recognized his voice.

Spoiler Alert Warning!

A more fantastic idea comes the alternative history novel The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth. In this book, Lindbergh becomes president in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt. As president, he signs peace accords with both Nazi Germany and Japan keeping the U.S. out of the war during his time in office. He also enacts policies against the Jews and other things that start moving America more towards a fascist state. After his presidency ends (he flies off and disappears never to be seen again), it is revealed that the Germans had organized the kidnapping and brought his child to Germany. They used this as leverage to compel Lindbergh to enact policies in line with the Nazi’s. At the same time, it was spread that Jew’s were responsible for the kidnapping encouraging antisemitism in America.

However, Lindbergh was not as keen in doing what they wanted (about the Jews in particular) and resisted. His vice president though was in tune with implementing the more radical policies they favored. It is not clear what really happened to Lindbergh. Was his plane brought down by engine failure, did he deliberately crash his plane, or did the Nazi’s have something to do with it? His disappearance allowed the vice president to take control and operate more like an authoritarian leader the Nazi’s would approve of lending credence to this theory. It fell apart thanks to Lindbergh’s wife taking to the radio and asking for it to stop. It does and ultimately Roosevelt would be president in the next election ending the Nazi plot.

Sources:

“Lindbergh Kidnapping.” Federal Bureau of Investigation, 21 Oct. 2022, www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/lindbergh-kidnapping.

Mullen, Matt. “Kidnapped Lindbergh Baby Found Dead.” HISTORY, 10 May 2022, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/body-of-lindbergh-baby-found.

Sullivan, Missy. “Lindbergh Baby Kidnapped.” HISTORY, 28 Feb. 2024, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lindbergh-baby-kidnapped.

 

Today is Ascension Sunday

Christi Himmelfahrt by Fresken von Gebhard Fugel
1893/1894
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

For most Christians and the Roman Catholic Church, today is Ascension Sunday when Jesus ascends into Heaven. The word ascension has a different meaning when applied in a religious context. Ascension is generally defined as ascend, or to go up. For instance, you ascend stairs, or you ascend a mountain path. Or it could be used to denote moving up to higher job level (he ascended to company president after the retirement of the previous one). Ascension in Judaism though means going to Heaven either without having to die first or after dying. In Jewish scripture, Elijah was taken directly to Heaven. The same applies to Enoch (Noah’s great-grandfather) as it appears from the text this happened as well.

In the case of Jesus, according to Christian teaching, he died and was resurrected. He then spent 40 days with his disciples. On the 40th day, he and the disciples went to Mount of Olives near Bethany and was also near Jerusalem. Only two gospels-Mark and Luke-record this event while the other two (Matthew and John) don’t though John does reference it. It is also recounted in the first chapter of Acts of the Apostles. The event was accepted by the early Church and also referenced in the Epistles. The traditional site (Mount of Olives) had a church built upon it in the Fourth century but was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times. The current structure is the Chapel of the Ascension and is easily discerned by its octagonal shape. It is considered a holy site by both Christians and Muslims.

Traditionally Ascension Day is held 39 days after Easter Sunday, so it falls on a Thursday. The Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar, so it is not celebrated at the same time as the Western Christian churches. Check out the liturgical calendar from the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church for more information. Ascension Day is a day of obligation meaning church attendance is required. Usually as part of the service, the Paschal candle that was lit on Easter will be extinguished to symbolize Jesus departure from earth. In some Catholic and Lutheran countries, it is a public holiday (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, German, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and some cantons in Switzerland). Ascension Day is not celebrated in the United Kingdom, United States, or Australia. Some Christian denominations may not mark it for celebration on Thursday and move it to Sunday.

For many years the Roman Catholic church celebrated it on Thursday, but that is no longer always the case. Back in the 1990’’s there was a movement in the United States (starting out on the West Coast) that started moving the day to the nearest Sunday. The movement to move mid-week holy days of obligation had been going on for some time already in the church. The reasons were both practical and spiritual. Since many people work during the week, they cannot always get to church. And by moving some holy days of obligation to Sunday, it will allow that important solemnity to be more widely celebrated. Many countries in Europe and elsewhere now have dioceses that have moved Ascension Day to Sunday. The Vatican now allows (with permission from the Holy See) each countries bishop conference to move some holy days of obligation to Sunday.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops now allows Ascension Sunday to take place on the 7th Sunday of Easter. However, dioceses that wish to observe on Thursday can do so. Currently the archdioceses and dioceses of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia are the only ones in the United States that celebrate Ascension Day on Thursday.

Sources:

 Pope, Msgr. Charles. “Ascension Sunday: The Lord ‘Taken up Into Heaven.’” NCR, 10 May 2024, www.ncregister.com/features/ascension-sunday-the-lord-taken-up-into-heaven.

Boelke, Rob. Why Do We Celebrate the Ascension on a Sunday? | Sacred Heart Catholic Church. 6 May 2024, sacredheartfla.org/2024/05/06/why-do-we-celebrate-the-ascension-on-a-sunday.

Rees, Neil. “What Is Ascension Day and Why Do We Celebrate It?” Christianity Today, 9 May 2024, www.christiantoday.com/article/what.is.ascension.day.and.why.do.we.celebrate.it/141704.htm.

Remembering History: United States Connected By Rail To Both Coasts (10 May 1869)

East and West Shaking hands at the laying of last rail Union Pacific Railroad
10 May 1869
Andrew J. Russell (1829–1902), Restored by Adam Cuerden
Yale University Libraries (via Wikimedia Commons)

There was a time that traveling coast to coast was an arduous task. You could take a long ship voyage down to the tip of South America (Cape Horn) and then sail north to get to San Francisco. You could get off at the Isthmus of Panama and walk over to the Pacific (and later by train) but it had its own risks as well. Or you could go as far west as the train would take you and take either a long wagon train voyage (or possibly a long stagecoach ride) until you got to the west coast. The completion of the transcontinental railway ended that on 10 May 1865 in Promontory, Utah.

The need for a transcontinental railroad was noticed as early as 1832. Connecting both coasts was needed in order to move freight, people, and even the military if needed. It was not until 1853 that the US Congress approved money for surveys to be done on possible routes. Tensions between North and South caused delays and where the line should begin. In 1862, with the Civil War going on, Congress approved the Pacific Railroad Act (1862) which gave loans and public land grants to build the railroad. The Union Pacific and Central Pacific rail lines began construction in Omaha and Sacramento.

Construction was arduous and difficult for both lines and the workers who built them. The Union Pacific used mostly Irish laborers, many who had served in the Civil War. Conditions in towns and settlements they had to use in most cases was simple and often miserable. Making it more difficult were the hot summers and often cold winters along with a great deal of lawlessness as well. The Central Pacific used Chinese laborers who worked brutal 12-hour days and were paid less than their counterparts on the Union Pacific. Building in the Sierra Nevada mountains proved very difficult, and avalanches were a frequent hazard in which whole work crews would be killed. Also misuse or mishandling of explosives would also take lives as well.

Yet despite all of this (and even initially building the lines that did not connect), the transcontinental railroad got done ahead of schedule in 1869. Remarkably it came under budget, which is extraordinary for a massive project of this type. Its construction allowed for the rapid expansion and development of the United States thanks to the rapid movement of freight and people across the country. By the end of June 1869, it was possible to travel entirely by rail from Jersey City, New Jersey to the Alameda Wharf in Oakland, CA. From there you hopped on a railway owned ferry to take you across the bay to San Francisco.

Advertisements carried in The Salt Lake Daily Telegraph showing both Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads ability to know travel between both the East and West coasts of the United States. Appeared the week that the two rail lines were joined in Utah on 10 May 1869.
Source: The Cooper Collection of US Railroad History
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Sources

“—.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 7 May 2024, www.britannica.com/technology/railroad/The-transcontinental-railroad.

—. “Transcontinental Railroad Completed, Unifying United States.” HISTORY, 9 May 2024, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/transcontinental-railroad-completed.

Staff, History Net. “The Transcontinental Railroad: Facts and Information.” HistoryNet, 24 Apr. 2023, www.historynet.com/transcontinental-railroad.

—. “Transcontinental Railroad.” Wikipedia, 29 Apr. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcontinental_railroad.

World War II Ends in Europe (8 May 1945)

German Instrument of Surrender signed on 7 April 1945 effective 8 May 1945.
Original source: U.S. Government Employee
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

It was a day long anticipated for both Great Britain and the United States. After years of hard fighting on both land and sea, the war against Germany was at an end. 8 May 1945 all German troops in Europe laid down their arms and surrendered. In formerly occupied cities and throughout Britain and the United States, celebrations broke out. Flags and banners were hung, people gathered in the streets, many went to church to give thanks to God for this wonderful day to finally arrive. Nazi flags, banners, and reminders of their former occupiers were quickly taken down and destroyed. The hard work of rebuilding would begin soon and for many countries that had suffered under Nazi occupation, it would take time. Germany in many areas would have to be rebuilt from the bombardment that had destroyed many cities. American and German prisoners of war were released and sent back home.

VE Day in London, 8 May 1945. Crowd is at Whitehall waiting to hear from Winston Churchill.
Source: Imperial War Museum
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

German troops tried, if possible, to surrender to British or American forces. They believed they would be better treated and a better chance of living. The Soviets had a reputation for being particularly nasty to captured German officers and soldiers. In Salzburg, Austria the two oldest sons of Captain Georg von Trapp, later to be immortalized in The Sound of Music, found their home they left behind when the family fled Austria to Italy (their tale, to be recounted later, is a fascinating one). They learned their home had been occupied by none other than Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the hated SS and under whose leadership the Final Solution had been carried out. The Trapp family would later give their home to a religious order that lives there to this day.

The war would linger a day longer in the East. The Soviets continued to battle small pockets of resistance in Silesia until they surrendered. This marked the end of hostilities in Europe for the Russians, who consider 9 May 1945 their day to celebrate the defeat of Germany. Stalin announced the end on a radio broadcast: “Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over.”

 

Sources:

—. “Allied Nations Worldwide Celebrate V-E Day.” HISTORY, 7 May 2024, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/victory-in-europe.

Chen, C. Peter. “Germany’s Surrender.” WW2DB, ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=152.

Imperial War Museums. “What You Need to Know About VE Day.” Imperial War Museums, www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-you-need-to-know-about-ve-day.

Swick, Gerald, and Gerald D. Swick. “V-E Day 1945: The Celebration Heard ’Round the World.” HistoryNet, 4 Oct. 2021, www.historynet.com/v-e-day-1945-the-celebration-heard-round-the-world.

—. “Victory in Europe Day.” Wikipedia, 9 May 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_in_Europe_Day

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