All posts by Mark Taylor

Remembering History: Prohibition Ratified

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol.
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

On 16 January 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was formally ratified. Under the 18th Amendment, the manufacture and distribution of alcohol in the United States (outside of industrial and sacramental use) was prohibited beginning a year later on 17 January 1920. Congress passed the Volstead Act to provide teeth to the law by allowing for enforcement of this law by the federal government, specifically a special unit of the Treasury Department. President Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act but overrode by Congress.

In the 19th century, temperance movements arose to address the growing problem of families being damaged when a husband or relative became addicted to alcohol. Also it was a means of curtailing acts of public drunkenness and related problems with people gathering to drink (gambling, prostitution etc.) The movement, religiously based in many cases, gathered steam and became a political one where it campaigned the state level for abstinence laws. In December 1917 Congress passed the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

All but two states ratified, a few after it had met the requisite number needed to amend the Constitution. Connecticut and Rhode Island were the two that rejected the amendment. Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin all ratified after 17 Jan 1919.

Aftermath

Enforcement at national and state levels became an issue right away. Neither Canada or Mexico were dry and illegal importation was an issue. Also with Cuba 90 miles away from Florida, it would provide another avenue for rum and other alcohols to be smuggled in. Breweries switched to making non-alcoholic beverages during this time. Wineries could only produce wine for sacramental (religious use), so they too had to turn to things like grape juice or apple cider. The law was not popular in a lot of cities, resulting in the rise of illegal places (called speakeasies) where you could drink alcohol.

To meet this need, many organized crime syndicates and gangs would supply the alcohol either by owning their own breweries and/or smuggling it in from outside the country. These crime syndicates would become enormously wealthy and corrupt local governments (police, politicians, judges) in order to stay in business. Competing gangs would sometimes duke it out on the streets leaving bodies of their enemies (and sometimes the innocent as well). Chicago became particularly notorious, both for its gangs and the depth of corruption. This prompted the federal government to target the Chicago Gang run by Al Capone. While they would raid his operations (done by the famous Elliott Ness), the financial investigation would lead to a successful conviction of tax fraud.

By the end of the decade, support for Prohibition had ebbed considerably. The rise of the organized crime, the fact many flouted the laws in large and small ways, and the difficulties encountered in enforcing the law all led to is eventual demise. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, many argued the alcohol industry could provide jobs. Franklin Roosevelt added it to his campaign plank in 1932. In 1933, the U.S. Congress passed the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th (the first such Amendment to do this) which was swiftly passed by most states. A few remained dry (under the provisions of the 21st Amendment, a state could decide to stay dry) after that but today states no longer ban its sale. There are still some counties that are dry, including the one where the Jim Beam distillery is located in Kentucky.

Sources:

 


Remembering History: Siege of Leningrad Broken (12 Jan 1943)

 

Anti-aircraft guns guarding the sky of Leningrad, 1 Oct 1941
RIA Novosti archive, image #5634 / David Trahtenberg / CC-BY-SA 3.0

After German troops invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, one of their top cities to take control of was Leningrad (former St. Petersburg, then Petrograd). As the second largest city in the Soviet Union (and its capital under the Tsar’s), it held significant importance. In August 1941, German troops surrounded the city so nothing could get in or out. This also cut off the Leningrad-Moscow railway. The residents built anti-tank fortifications and defended the city with the resources they had. Hitler decided to wait them out in a siege hoping to break down the will of the residents. Some limited supplies were able to get in but not enough for all its residents. Starvation, disease, and injuries mounted up. They did manage to evacuate about a million elderly and young people out of the city but that left 2 million to deal with the dire situation.

Food was rationed and any open space was used to plant food.  On 12 January 1943, Soviet troops punched a hole rupturing the German siege allowing supplies to come in one Lake Ledoga. A Soviet counteroffensive on 27 Jan 1944 brought the siege to a complete end after 872 days. The Russian army lost, captured or missing 1,017,881 and 2,418,185 wounded or sick. 642,000 civilians died during the siege and, 400,000 during evacuations.

Sources:

Soviet forces penetrate the siege of Leningrad (History.com)
Siege of Leningrad (WorldWar2facts.org)

 

 

 

 

Screen Rant on Titanic: Complicated Reasons For Sinking

The Famous What If

Sketch of J. Bruce Ismay giving testimony before U.S. Senate Titanic inquiry.
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

Adrienne Tyler over at ScreenRant recently wrote about why Titanic sank and who is to blame. She examined the various pieces of the puzzle and realized that it is hard to pin just on one thing alone or one person does not work.

The tragedy of the Titanic was the result of a combination of circumstances and bad decisions, and one reason and one person to blame might never be specified.

Walter Lord, noted Titanic author, opined on the various What Ifs that could have changed the outcome of the tragedy. What if there were enough lifeboats for all? What if they looked at the ice warnings they got and realized they were sailing into an ice field? What if they had binoculars on the crow’s nest and saw the iceberg sooner? What if they had instead crashed into the iceberg head on and not tried to pivot around it?  All these questions are indicative of the story that is Titanic.

And quite a story it is since we are still talking about it over 110 years later. The ship was advertised as practically unsinkable due to its watertight compartments. With doors to slam down in an emergency to seal off the compartments, it would greatly reduce flooding and the vessel sinking. People marveled at its refinements, and it attracted the major people in society to sail aboard on her maiden voyage. She also carried a lot of new immigrants to the new world hoping to start a new life in America. Titanic was a ship the reflected the society of her day in a way that no one else ever did. Its dramatic ending has sealed it forever in history with lingering questions as to what happened and who was to blame.

Titanic leaving Belfast with two guiding tugs, 2 April 1912
Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Nor can the tragedy be entirely blamed on one person. Captain Edward J. Smith, had he survived, would have likely said he was following the conventional wisdom of his day. Iceberg collisions were rare though not unheard of.  The fact that he did not chart out them out would call him into question.  J. Bruce Ismay, though head of the line that owned the ship, was not at fault for what happened either. His sin was getting off the ship alive while so many died. He did nix the idea of more lifeboats though to save space. Even then it met and exceeded the requirements of the Board of Trade. Some argue (and with data to support it), that the quality of the steel was compromised with slag making it more brittle at freezing temperatures resulting in rivets and plates being damaged by the iceberg.

There were many bad decisions from the lifeboats to running the ship through an ice field at nearly top speed. The main culprit was complacency. No one thought a disaster like Titanic could or would occur. There was an arrogance implied as well that man had mastered nature. And it was a large piece of frozen water that made many realize the exact opposite was true.

Source:

Titanic: Why Did The Ship Sink & Who Was Really To Blame?
ScreenRant, 8 Jan 2022


Today is Epiphany/Three Kings Day(Actual)

Adoración de los Reyes Magos
El Greco (1541–1614)
Public Domain

Epiphany or Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6 by most Western Christian denominations. It is the day set aside to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem and the presentation of their gifts to Jesus. The Catholic Church decided to move its observance to the Sunday after Christmas so people would not have to take off work to attend mass.  In 2021, since Christmas fell on a Saturday, it was celebrated the next day. However the traditional Twelve.Days of Christmas are still in play.

Twelfth Day observances vary by country and some celebrate it on the evening before. Usually there are special celebrations involving foods and special cakes. If a Christmas log was lit for the season, it is now extinguished. King cake (a traditional part of the feast) is almost always present. Children often get gifts of candy or other things from the Wise Men. In Italy, the Christmas Witch La Belfana delivers  gifts on Epiphany Eve to stockings children put up before bed. They awake to the delight of treats in the stockings. In Spain, it is celebrated as Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) where families gather to celebrate the day.

One good way to celebrate it with the family is to gather before the  nativity to remember what the holiday is all about. Christmas music should be played and a nice midday meal served. Then taking down the Christmas tree can be done together. The nativity scene can remain up until the Baptism of the Lord (Jan 9 this year) which ends the Christmas season.

 

New Year’s Day on Great Lakes

As many of us slept in on New Year’s Day, final pickups and deliveries were being done on the Great Lakes. The region has been under a real Arctic chill of late sending temperature well below zero. The Paul R. Tregurtha is seen departing from Duluth in the morning and it is minus 13 degrees below zero F. You can see the think ice and but more interestingly the sea smoke. This happens when the air is cooler than the water causing this effect. It looks like the water is giving off steam. Due to its morning departure and how cold it was, only a few wavers are there to see it off.

(“COOL” Departure) – Paul R Tregurtha departed Duluth 01/01/2022


Today is Epiphany Sunday (Observed) (2 Jan 2022)

Adoración de los Reyes Magos
El Greco (1541–1614)
Public Domai

Today is Epiphany Sunday in most Christian liturgical calendars. It is normally observed on 6 January but since Christmas fell on a Saturday, it is celebrated on the nearest Sunday which is today. Thus the 12 Days of Christmas are still in effect and will continue until the actual date when the Christmas season generally ends for many. Most Eastern Orthodox churches and Russian Orthodox celebrate it using the Julian Calendar, so it occurs 13 days later. Their Advent Season is now taking place with Christmas Day on 7 Jan 2022.

Epiphany or Three Kings Day is to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). During the Middle Ages, this was a major feast day (a solemnity) requiring attendance at church on that day. However, it was decided (since its popularity began to wane) to move it to the Sunday followingChristmas. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.

Remembering History: Washington Crosses Delaware in Surprise Attack (Dec 25-26, 1776)

Washington Crossing The Delaware
Emanuel Leutze (1816–1868)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
Public Domain

By the winter of 1776, things looked bleak for the patriots fighting the British. They had suffered a string of defeats (New York and other places) that sapped the morale of many patriots. General George Washington’s leadership was being questioned by some leaders, and there was a general feeling that British were going to win unless things changed. The British by this time were of the opinion they were succeeding, though they found the Americans could put up a good fight. With winter upon them, the war paused as normally European armies did not fight during this time. Hessian troops, paid mercenaries hired by the British, were skilled professional soldiers raised nearly from birth to fight. A Hessian force was quartering in Trenton, New Jersey for the winter. General Washington decided to go on the offensive to win a battle and raise the morale of the troops who were suffering through the cold winter.

On the night of December 25, 1776, his army began moving across the Delaware River. The group led by Washington, 2,400 strong, made it to the other side but the other two divisions that made of 3,000 men did not get across at the right time. The Hessians had spent Christmas Day relaxing, eating, and drinking and did not believe the Americans were a threat. They had in fact dismissed warnings the Americans might attack. So, they were unprepared for what happened on December 26.  At 8 am, Washington attacked with two columns. By 9:30 am, the German defenses had crumbled, and the town was surrounded. While many Hessians did escape, they did capture several hundred and only lost four lives in the process. Unfortunately, since most of his troops had failed to cross, Washington was without any additional men or artillery to hold Trenton. He was forced to withdraw.

It was a minor battle that had no real strategic impact. The news of the successful attack though raised American colonialists’ spirits.  The initiative shown by Washington showed the Continental Army was capable of victory.

Sources:

History.com
MountVernon.org

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